APTS chief rebuts FCC chairman on technical limits of channel-sharing

By Ben Mook

In an exchange with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, public television’s top lobbyist sought to dial back expectations for channel-sharing pilot tests involving KLCS-TV in Los Angeles.

Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, responded to a blog post in which Wheeler enthusiastically described the experiment as mapping a “future” of broadcasting in which TV stations use “50 percent less bandwidth to produce a picture with increased quality of up to 300 percent.”

Pat Butler

Butler

“We appreciate Chairman Wheeler’s enthusiasm about the channel-sharing pilot in Los Angeles, and we were honored to have him visit public television station KLCS, where the pilot is being conducted,” Butler wrote in a Feb. 12 statement issued by APTS. “But we should be clear that this pilot is not intended to prove that all broadcasters can get by with half the spectrum they’re currently using. Instead, it’s designed to show that all kinds of good things can happen — for broadcasters and for the public — with advances in compression technology and innovative business arrangements that permit the sharing of significant costs between stations.”

KLCS paired with KJLA, a bilingual commercial station in Los Angeles, to mount the channel-sharing pilot, announced Jan. 28 and officially approved by the FCC Feb. 3. The stations will test the limits for packing high- and standard-definition television content within a single 6 MHz channel. Their findings will guide broadcasters and policymakers during the FCC’s spectrum auction proceeding, scheduled for next year.

On his FCC blog, Wheeler described his recent visit to KLCS in glowing terms. “If the pilot works as engineers expect it will, this could be a game changer for the concept of channel sharing,” he wrote. “It will provide a real-world demonstration about the technical and legal arrangements necessary for successful channel sharing. Hopefully other broadcasters will pay attention and consider the valuable opportunities channel sharing and the incentive auction present.”

Channel-sharing agreements, which the FCC plans to encourage in the months leading up to the auctions, will allow local broadcasters who choose to participate in the auctions to move their signals to repacked channels and, as Wheeler put it, “bolster their balance sheets, reduce capital expenses, and continue their traditional business.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the call letters of KLCS.

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