In the Matter of MM Docket No. 95-31

Reexamination of the Comparative
Standards for Noncommercial
Educational Applicant


REPLY COMMENTS OF

CENTER FOR MEDIA EDUCATION

[and others]

The Center for Media Education, [others] ("CME, et al.") respectfully submit the following Reply Comments in response to the Commission’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Reexamination of the Comparative Standards for Noncommercial Educational Applicants, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 98-269, MM Docket No. 95-31 (rel. Oct. 21, 1998) ("Further Notice").

In their original filing, CME, et al. argued that the Commission should retain comparative hearings to allocate NCE licenses. CME, et al. maintained that comparative hearings focus on the qualifications of the applicant, ensuring that the licensee selected will meet the public interest standard. CME, et al. also argued that the Commission should not adopt a lottery system for allocating NCE licenses because lotteries will reduce the quality of service to the public and will not result in a significant savings of time or money. In addition, CME, et al. urged the Commission to adopt a point system if it decides not to retain comparative hearings. Finally, CME, et al. argued that the Commission should reserve additional spectrum for NCE use.

In this current filing, CME, et al. will respond to comments which propose mechanisms for allocating NCE licenses for reserved and unreserved spectrum. CME, et al. continue to maintain that comparative hearings are the best system for allocating NCE licenses on reserved spectrum. We believe that the broadcasters’ assumption that lotteries and point systems will save the Commission resources is erroneous. However, should the Commission ultimately decide not to retain comparative hearings, CME, et al. propose that the Commission adopt a point system which grants credits for localism, diversity of control, local diversity, minority control, fair distribution of service, and spectrum efficiency, and incorporates meaningful tie-breaking mechanisms, holding periods, and other anti-fraud regulations.

CME, et al. also support reserving additional NCE spectrum under a special processing track. CME, et al. reject proposals that require NCE applicants to participate in auctions or lotteries, and advocate against making NCE applicants ineligible for commercial spectrum.

I. THE COMMISSION SHOULD RETAIN COMPARATIVE HEARINGS TO ALLOCATE NCE LICENSES ON RESERVED SPECTRUM

The Commission should retain comparative hearings because they ensure the selection of applicants who will meet the public interest standard and fulfill the mission of NCE broadcasting. Congress requires that the Commission grant licenses to broadcasters who will serve the public interest. Furthermore, Congress has found that the public interest is furthered when public telecommunications services create alternative programming responsive to local communities. Only through comparative hearings can the Commission perform a thorough analysis of each application and license the most qualified candidate.

The Commission should not underestimate the support for comparative hearings. Comments which propose alternative systems should not be interpreted as wholesale rejections of the current system. Some commenters recognized the benefits of comparative hearings and chose to recommend alternative systems only after the Commission decided to "tentatively reject traditional hearings." Thus, members of the public interest and broadcast community continue to support traditional comparative hearings.

A. The Commission and Commenters Overestimate the Benefits of Lotteries and Point Systems

The Commission and several commenters overestimate the benefits of lotteries and point systems. Allocating NCE licenses by either lotteries or point systems will not effectively fulfill the public interest. Furthermore, neither system will save the Commission resources. CME, et al. assert that once costs and benefits are accurately assessed, comparative hearings continue to provide the best mechanism for allocating NCE licenses and for serving the public.

 

1. Allocating NCE Licenses by Either Lotteries or a Point System Will Not Meet the Public Interest Standard

Use of lotteries will prevent the Commission from fulfilling the public interest standard. In their original filing, CME et al. argued that lotteries, even with preferences, will likely result in unqualified licensees. Other commenters are equally skeptical of the Commission’s ability to further the public interest if a lottery is employed. When selection is based on chance, the Commission may not license the best candidate.

Pensacola Christian College ("PCC") argues that unweighted lotteries with a simplified application process will further diversity of ownership and minority participation, and thus satisfy the Communications Act. PCC erroneously assumes that lotteries will increase participation by traditionally excluded groups, and will lead to the licensing of quality broadcasters. In fact, increasing participation of these groups through lotteries means little because lotteries do not absolutely ensure such entities will be licensed.

In addition, CME, et al., the National Federation of Community Broadcasters ("NFCB"), and Public Radio for the Front Range ("PRFR") refute the Commission’s assertion that a lottery selected licensee will further the public interest to garnish financial support. CME et al., NFCB and PRFR argue that public broadcasting was designed to serve all members of the public, including the less affluent and underserved, through means that may not be the most commercially viable. Wealthy donors may not seek to serve the unmet needs of a community and the Commission cannot blindly rely on wealthy contributors to labor for the public interest. Furthermore, the Commission’s reliance on such a policy would increase the dependency of NCE broadcasters on the whims of wealthy factions.

Similarly, using point systems to allocate licenses will fail to meet the public interest. Point systems are preferable to lotteries because they employ some degree of reasoned decision making. However, point systems cannot differentiate between candidates which have the same amount of points but who achieve those points to different degrees. The ability to make such distinctions is crucial to licensing the most qualified applicant.

Moreover, point systems are based on a finite set of criteria despite the fact that there are infinite avenues to foster the public interest. A point system will leave highly qualified applicants, superior in ways novel to the Commission’s point system, without a license. Comparative hearings entail a detailed and thorough analysis of all aspects of the applicant, while point systems select licensees based on a narrow and incomplete assessment of applicant potential.

2. Neither Lotteries Nor Point Systems Will Lead to the Anticipated Savings in Resources

Developing and enforcing a system to replace comparative hearings will be time-consuming, expensive, and result in added delays.See CME, et al. Comments at 13-14; See also Americans for Radio Diversity ("ARD") Comments at 1; American Family Association ("AFA") Comments at 2-3; CCU Comments at 6; CSN Comments at 3; NFCB Comments at 4-5; NPR Comments at 9; NCE Broadcasters Comments at 6; PRFR Comments at 3; SRG Comments at 9-10; Student Educational Broadcasting ("SEB") Comments at 1. Under either a lottery or a point system, the Commission will be forced to choose among proposed preferences or credits. Determining the weight to give each preference or credit will be complicated at best. The Commission will also need to decide procedural issues such as whether to have filing windows, holding periods, annual certifications, opportunities to file petitions to deny, and other measures for verifying the validity of claimed preferences or credits. Developing and enforcing such procedures will require an on-going allocation of time and money.

Furthermore, adopting either a lottery or a point system will invite court challenges. Along with petitions to deny from dissatisfied applicants and members of the public who are concerned with the quality of the selected licensee, the Commission may be faced with allegations that it acted arbitrarily when employing the alternative system. With a multitude of proposals to choose from, the preferences or credits ultimately chosen and the weight given to each will likely be challenged as arbitrary decision making. Such allegations will lead to time-consuming litigation and appeals and require a significant allocation of resources to resolve.

To avoid implementing an alternative system that would jeopardize the public interest and save the Commission few, if any, resources, CME, et al. strongly urge the Commission to retain the current comparative hearing process.

II. IF THE COMMISSION DECIDES TO REPLACE COMPARATIVE HEARINGS, A POINT SYSTEM IS PREFERABLE TO ALLOCATION BY LOTTERY.

If the Commission decides to replace comparative hearings, CME, et al. urge the Commission to adopt a point system. A point system is preferable to a lottery because it can be designed to select a qualified applicant. When implementing a point system, the Commission should adopt meaningful criteria to further the public interest and employ procedures to ensure that broadcasters remain qualified throughout the entire licensing period.

A. A Point System Should Grant Credit to Applicants Who Foster Responsiveness to Local Communities, Diverse and Alternative Programming, and Service for Underserved Audiences

A valid point system will reward applicants who further the purpose and mission of NCE broadcasting. Because point systems allocate licenses to applicants who have the most points, the Commission must carefully select both the criteria employed for awarding points and the weight given to each criterion. CME, et al. support criteria suggested by various commenters that will create incentives for broadcasters to provide responsive local programming and service to underserved communities.

1. The Commission Should Award Localism Credits to Applicants Who Demonstrate Responsiveness to Local Needs

NCE broadcasters that are responsive to local community needs will best fulfill the public interest mandate. Stations that are integrated within their communities of license are more likely to be sensitive to community concerns. The Carnegie Commission on Educational Television viewed local communities as the "heart" of educational broadcasting and recognized the importance of community input. Its vision for noncommercial television is surely applicable to all NCE broadcasting, and the FCC should heed the Carnegie Report’s recommendations:

Educational television is to be constructed on the firm foundation of strong and energetic local stations. The heart of the of the system is to be in the community...[T]he overwhelming proportion of programs will be produced in the stations...local skills and crafts will be utilized and tapped...Like a good metropolitan newspaper, the local station will reflect the entire nation and the world, while maintaining a firm grasp upon the nature and needs of the people it serves.

To ensure that NCE stations are community-centered stations, localism credits should be granted to applicants who a) have a local headquarters within the community they propose to serve, b) are financially supported by a significant amount of local funding, c) have a board of directors comprised of a significant portion of local residents, d) propose a significant percentage of local programming, e) allow local residents to have air time, and f) are local educational organizations or part of a state-wide plan.

Because localism is essential to fulfilling the Carnegie Commission’s vision for public broadcasting and the public interest mandate in general, localism credits should be granted more weight than other credits. Only applicants who obtain localism credit should receive licenses. Without meeting at least a portion of localism criteria, there is no guarantee that broadcasters will adequately fulfill the public interest.

While some commenters oppose granting localism credits, their rationales are unpersuasive. For example, JSM opposes the use of representativeness (localism) credits, arguing that they disadvantage applicants who serve a particular underserved segment of the community, and favor applicants who serve a cross-section of the community. However, if a point system favors applicants who serve only small segments of the population, the majority of audiences will be left unserved. While it is in the public interest for stations to serve all types of audiences, frequencies are limited and thus, applicants who incorporate the needs of a large cross-section of their community should be preferred over those who do not. In addition, Community TV argued in its comments that credits for localism do not necessarily reward the best broadcaster because broadcasters with no localism credits might provide beneficial service. However, CME, et al. believe that the most beneficial service is that which responds to local needs. The only way to ensure broadcasters are responsive to local communities is to implement localism credits, otherwise there are few incentives for distant broadcasters to actually provide local programming.

2. The Commission Should Reward Applicants Who Foster Diverse and Alternative Programming, and Service to Underserved Audiences

The Commission has recognized that "diverse programming with sensitivity to the diverse needs, interests and concerns of our nation’s people, which may be underserved by commercial broadcasting, remain central to the unique service provided by Public Broadcasting." Diverse and alternative programming, and service to underserved audiences can be promoted through credit for a) diversity of control, b) local diversity, c) minority control, d) fair distribution of service, and e) spectrum efficiency.

Many commenters agree that applicants who have few stations should be rewarded diversity of control credit. Such a credit will increase diverse programming and ownership by creating incentives for new voices to enter the applicant pool. Similarly, commenters agree that credit for local diversity will increase diverse programming for a community by preventing applicants controlled or owned by broadcasters already servicing that community from being favored.

In addition, the Commission should grant a minority control credit to applicants whose entities are owned and controlled by minorities and women. Increasing the number of broadcast stations owned and controlled by minorities and women will create new diverse and alternative programming. Furthermore, such stations may be more sensitive to the needs of underserved communities. In previous proceedings, CME, et al. argued that the Commission can overcome Adarand problems. However, if the Commission doubts its ability to overcome such constitutional obstacles, it should initiate its own studies to develop a sufficient record.

 

Credits for fair distribution of service and spectrum efficiency will create incentives for broadcasters to serve underserved communities. Some commenters indicate that 307(b) of the Communications Act requires the Commission to adopt a fair distribution of service credit to ensure that spectrum is fairly, efficiently, and equitably distributed. Commenters argue that a fair distribution of service credit should be allocated to applicants who propose to serve underserved communities. Credits should be granted to applicants who provide the first, second or third full-time NCE service. Such credits will simultaneously serve to increase programming to underserved audiences and will provide incentives for applicants to create alternative voices in that community.

Spectrum efficiency credits should be granted to applicants who serve a larger population and geographic coverage area, and applicants who propose to improve technological service. Such credits will increase service to underserved communities by giving broadcasters incentives to reach greater audiences and to improve current services.

Various commenters criticize credits which foster diverse and alternative programming, and service to the underserved. Some commenters fear a local diversity credit will favor non-local organizations that know little about the community at the expense of local stations or educational organizations who want a second NCE service to respond to the needs to their community. Other broadcasters fear fair distribution of service and spectrum efficiency credits will favor large broadcasters and not reward applicants who will best serve the community. However CME, et al. believe applicants which foster diverse and alternative programming, and service to underserved communities should be rewarded. Heavily weighted localism credits will ensure that large broadcasters and non-local stations are responsive to local needs. If localism credits are assigned significant weight, only applicants which demonstrate attention to community needs will be selected. Thus, a point system which highly values localism will ensure responsiveness and prevent wealthy broadcasters from monopolizing reserved spectrum.

 

B. The Commission Should Reject Proposals to Grant Credit for "First to File," "Experienced Broadcasters," and "Past Record"

Some commenters have urged the Commission to adopt credit for "first to file," "experienced broadcasters," and "past record." CME, et al. oppose such proposals because they do not provide incentives to improve the current status of public broadcasting, and thus, do little to further the public interest.

Commenters in support of a "first to file" credit argue applicants who spend the resources to "pioneer" a frequency should be rewarded. Proponents of this view argue that such a credit will encourage qualified applicants to seek creative ways to utilize available channels which in turn, will increase the number and diversity of radio voices to the public. Such commenters distort the reality of a "first to file" credit. Granting such a credit rewards wealthy broadcasters who can file quick multiple applications. A first to file credit will not yield broadcast diversity, but a broadcast monopoly. This credit also excludes less affluent broadcasters from obtaining licenses. Furthermore, this credit does nothing to encourage broadcasters to serve underserved audiences or to provide alternative programming.

Additionally, CME, et al. believe a first to file credit will result in a "land rush" of applicants for NCE frequencies and will prevent future upgrades by existing licensees because applicants will be more concerned with filing new applications than improving their current broadcasting services. While proponents of the first to file credit respond by arguing that it is not in the public interest for the Commission to "warehouse" NCE frequencies, CME, et al. argued in its initial comments that the Commission has historically distributed NCE licenses slowly, focusing on the quality of the applicant, rather than on the speed of distribution. A first to file credit would create incentives for applicants to shift their focus from the quality of their applications to the rate at which they could file. The Commission should continue its policy of rewarding quality over speed by rejecting this credit.

Commenters who support credit for experienced broadcasters and past untarnished records argue that such factors are the "most reliable gauge" of the future service such applicants can provide. While rewarding experience and untarnished records may maintain the current quality of broadcasting, CME, et al. urge the Commission to advance the future of NCE broadcasting. Advancing the public interest requires the Commission to adopt credits that promote new ownership and foster diverse and alternative programming for underserved audiences. Credit for experience or untarnished records may actually be a disincentive for ingenious change.

C. The Commission Should Hold Comparative Hearings to Break Ties, or Enforce a Meaningful Tie-Breaking Factor

Because a point system will inevitably lead to ties, mechanisms for breaking ties must be chosen carefully to ensure the best applicant is selected. In its original filing, CME, et al. urged the Commission to hold comparative hearings to break ties. Once again, CME, et al. assert that while two applicants may have the same number of points, it is unlikely that both candidates will meet the criteria in the same manner or to the same degree. Only through comparative hearings can the Commission distinguish between such candidates and license the most qualified applicant.

Should the Commission decide not to hold comparative hearings to break-ties, it should employ meaningful tie-breaking factors that would award licenses to applicants who further the public interest. For example, awarding a license to the applicant who proposes the "largest amount of local programming" will further the public interest by prioritizing responsiveness to local communities. Such a tie-breaker would create incentives for applicants to design local programming to receive localism credits and to win ties. Additionally, preferencing applicants with the "fewest pending applications" will discourage speculators and encourage applicants to use their resources to increase the quality of their applications instead of the quantity.

The Commission should reject tie-breaking mechanisms that do not differentiate between applicants in a manner that furthers the public interest. The Commission should reject lotteries and "first to file" credits as tie-breaking mechanisms. While use of lotteries to break ties between two or more qualified applicants may be less disastrous than using lotteries to choose between all competing applicants, a more reasoned decision making process is preferable. Lotteries will fail to make the necessary distinctions to ensure that the better candidate is licensed. In addition, a first to file tie-breaker will not advance the public interest.

The Commission should also reject time-sharing as a mechanism for resolving ties. The public is better served by one highly qualified licensee; mandatory time-sharing prevents consistency in programming and is confusing to the public. Time-sharing also disadvantages broadcasters by forcing stations with different objectives, audiences, staffs and policies to share a frequency. Such measures prevent stations from developing a solid, cohesive identity. Additionally, time-sharing could create constitutional difficulties if the Commission favors one broadcaster over another when granting one station access to the most desirable broadcast hours.

III. THE COMMISSION SHOULD ADOPT HOLDING PERIODS AND OTHER ANTI-FRAUD PROCEDURES TO ENSURE THE INTEGRITY OF ANY LICENSING SYSTEM

The Commission should adopt holding periods to deter speculators and to protect the

public. Any system of licensing that relaxes applicant requirements will attract speculators. Speculators jeopardize the public interest because they are unlikely to offer quality noncommercial broadcasting and they may sell public airwaves to underqualified broadcast stations.

Commenters who oppose holding periods offer unconvincing arguments. For example, Community TV argues holding periods are unnecessary because turn-overs rarely occur in the NCE context. However, the frequency of turn-overs is an insufficient argument to deny implementation of holding periods. Holding periods are necessary as a cautionary and protective measure. In addition, NCE Broadcasters also attempt to refute the need for holding periods, arguing that a credit for "local funding" somehow obviates the need for holding periods. However, receipt of local funds would not preclude broadcasters from later selling their station to another less qualified broadcaster for profit. Moreover, holding periods are necessary for licensees who do not receive local funding credits.

CME, et al. endorse proposals for eight year holding periods which allow the Commission to grant waivers in extraordinary circumstances and allow for transfers to NCE broadcasters which do not possess significantly fewer points than the original licensee. Additionally, CME, et al. agree with the Commission that broadcasters who transfer their station prior to the end of the holding period should recoup only legitimate prudent expenses. Such measures will combat speculators and discourage the sale of public frequencies to unworthy broadcasters.

The Commission should also adopt additional anti-fraud measures to protect the public.

As noted in CME, et al.’s original comments, holding periods alone are insufficient to protect the public. Once a licensee is selected, additional measures must be taken to ensure licensees remain true to their application promises. CME, et al. and others strongly advocate for annual certifications in addition to holding periods. Some commenters disapproved of various credits (i.e., local diversity, spectrum efficiency) which rely on applicant proposals, fearing applicants will never fulfill their promises once licensed. Annual certifications will resolve fraudulent manipulation of the application process.

In addition, CME, et al. agree with other commenters that the Commission should adopt other anti-fraud measures, such as requiring applicants to file documents in support of claimed credits, requiring applicants to certify that they have not entered into any agreements to transfer a permit or license, giving applicants the opportunity to file petitions to deny once a licensee is chosen, and enforcing other measures such as random audits to protect the public. The Commission should also create filing windows with limits on the number of applications one can file to discourage speculators and to force applicants to enhance the quality, not quantity of their applications.

IV. THE COMMISSION SHOULD RESERVE ADDITIONAL SPECTRUM FOR NCE BROADCASTERS UNDER A SPECIAL PROCESSING TRACK

As CME, et al. discussed in their original filing, the public’s access to noncommercial programming has been artificially limited by a lack of frequencies available for NCE use. The Commission should respond to the public’s demand for noncommercial programming by reserving additional spectrum for NCE broadcasters.

CME, et al. support NPR’s proposal for reallocating additional spectrum under a special processing track. Under a special processing track, once an NCE entity files a technically-acceptable application for non-reserved spectrum, the channel would be reserved. Once reserved, only other NCE entities could compete for such spectrum under the CME, et al. point system proposed above. The Commission could discourage significant reallocation of commercial spectrum by limiting the number of applications an NCE can file. Furthermore, to prevent NCE broadcasters from selling licenses to commercial entities, the Commission could simply prohibit transfers to entities that operate on a commercial basis.

Where multiple applicants seek the same non-reserved spectrum, such candidates will be forced to compete under the point system. However, if there is a lack of interest for a particular non-reserved frequency, a special processing track may, in effect, award licenses to the first broadcaster who files a technically-acceptable application. Thus, if the Commission adopts a special processing track, CME, et al. urge the Commission to tighten NCE eligibility standards to prevent the licensing of less qualified station owners who file technically-acceptable applications for uncontested spectrum.

A special processing track is superior to the reallocation system proposed in the Further Notice 37. The Commission’s proposal reserves additional spectrum only if the applicant seeking reallotment has no other reserved spectrum available for use, and if reallotment would provide the first or second NCE service to the community. The special processing track is superior because it will result in more reserved spectrum, and because it employs the point system above, which will ensure newly licensed NCE broadcasters further the public interest. The method for reallocation proposed in the Further Notice 37 will reserve new spectrum in only limited cases. Furthermore, the Commission proposal does not require broadcasters to meet standards equivalent to the point system above, and thus, will attract large broadcasters unresponsive to local needs.

V. THE COMMISSION SHOULD REJECT PROPOSALS TO ALLOCATE COMMERCIAL SPECTRUM THROUGH ANY MEANS THAT FORCE NCE APPLICANTS TO PARTICIPATE IN AUCTIONS OR LOTTERIES

Adopting a special processing track obviates the need to develop a system for

allocating non-reserved spectrum among competing commercial and noncommercial

applicants. In the Further Notice 36-44, the Commission proposed a variety of methods for granting licenses when NCE and commercial entities compete for commercial spectrum. If the Commission adopts a special processing track however, auctions, ineligibility requirements and other hybrid approaches become unnecessary. Under a special processing track, NCE broadcasters will no longer need to compete with commercial applicants for non-reserved spectrum because non-reserved spectrum will become reserved once a technically-acceptable application is filed. Thus, adopting a special processing track may save the Commission resources and prevent problems that may arise under a system where NCE and commercial applicants must compete against each other.

A. NCE Participation in Auctions is Prohibited by Statutory Authority and Public Policy

Congress prohibits the Commission from employing auctions to allocate broadcast licenses or construction permits for reserved and non-reserved spectrum where there is a NCE applicant. While some commenters argue that the Commission is precluded from utilizing auctions only where NCE broadcasters are applying for reserved spectrum, statutory language and legislative history demonstrate otherwise.

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 provides that competitive bidding authority granted by the Act "shall not apply to licenses or construction permits issued by the Commission...for stations described in section 397(6) of this Act." Section 397(6) refers to "noncommercial educational broadcast station" and "public broadcast station" which,

(A) under the rules and regulations of the Commission in effect on the effective date of this paragraph, is eligible to be licensed by the Commission as a noncommercial educational radio or television broadcast station and which is owned and operated by a public agency or nonprofit private foundation, corporation, or association; or

(B) is owned and operated by a municipality and which transmits only noncommercial programs for education purposes.

Section 397(6) further defines these stations in terms of their eligibility, ownership and operators. Section 397(6) does not distinguish between NCE stations that operate on reserved spectrum from those that do not. Thus, the statutory language of 309(j)(2)(C) clearly prohibits the Commission from using auctions to allocate licenses or permits when there are NCE applicants, not just when NCE broadcasters are applying for reserved spectrum. With respect to codified federal statutes, the legislative intent of Congress is to be derived from the language and structure of the statute itself. Therefore, interpretations of 309(j)(2)(C) which serve to exclude only a subset of NCE broadcasters from auctions are contrary to Congressional intent.

Moreover, legislative history supports the exclusion of NCE applicants from auctions for reserved and non-reserved spectrum. It is well established that "where Congress includes limiting language in an earlier version of a bill but deletes it prior to enactment, it may be presumed that the limitation was not intended." Congress rejected an earlier version of 309(j)(2)(C) which would have excluded NCE applicants only from auctions for reserved spectrum. Both of the Senate and House bills, which were not enacted, exempted "public telecommunications services, as defined in 397(14) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 397(14)),when the license application is for channels reserved for noncommercial use." Congress was clearly aware of a narrower exemption and chose not to implement it. Thus, Congress clearly intended to make a categorical exclusion of NCE broadcasters from auctions.

CME, et. al support the comments of NPR which argue that subjecting NCE applicants to auctions would harm the public interest by restricting diverse programming. Requiring NCE applicants to compete with commercial applicants in auctions would virtually eliminate all noncommercial programming from the non-reserved spectrum. NCE applicants simply do not have the resources to compete effectively against commercial broadcasters. CME, et al. noted in their original filing that commercial licenses are expensive and that prices continue to escalate. Commercial licenses are not a viable option for many NCE broadcasters.

B. The Commission Should Reject Proposals to Make NCE Entities Ineligible for Commercial Spectrum, and Hybrid Approaches that Force NCE Applicants to Participate in Auctions or Lotteries

The Commission should not make NCE entities ineligible for non-reserved spectrum. Commenters note that spectrum was reserved for NCE broadcasters to promote, not restrict NCE development. Additionally, the Commission has fostered a long established precedent of NCE use of commercial spectrum. Moreover, making NCE broadcasters ineligible would prohibit NCE stations currently operating on commercial spectrum from broadcasting, resulting in a decrease in diverse programming.

Should the Commission decide not to adopt a special processing track, CME, et al. would reiterate its opposition to any mechanism that subjects NCE applicants to auctions or lotteries. As discussed above, Congress and public policy prohibit the Commission from using auctions where there are NCE applicants. Additionally, any approach that encompasses lotteries will fail to effectuate the public interest standard. The prohibition against auctions and the defects of lotteries will not be overcome by incorporating these practices into a hybrid system.

Commenters have also proposed hybrid approaches that require both NCE and commercial applicants to compete under a point system. If the Commission adopts this approach, the Commission should note the difficulties likely to arise when attempting to compare NCE and commercial broadcasters, and the possible inequities that may follow. NCE and commercial applicants differ greatly in resources, goals, policies, and size. If the Commission attempts to compare such divergent entities, a workable system will be difficult to develop.

 

Conclusion

The Commission should retain comparative hearings. Lotteries and point systems will not effectuate the public interest to the same degree as comparative hearings, and will not save the Commission resources. Should the Commission employ a point system, it should include credits for localism, diversity control, local diversity, minority control, fair distribution of service, and spectrum efficiency. Such credits will ensure that the licensee serves the public interest. The Commission should break ties using comparative hearings, and should adopt holding periods and annual certifications, along with other anti-fraud measures, to ensure the integrity of the system.

The Commission should also reserve additional spectrum for NCE broadcasters under a special processing track. The Commission should reject proposals that would subject NCE entities to auctions or lotteries or would make them ineligible for non-reserved spectrum.

Above all, the Commission should guide its decision making with the purpose and mission of noncommercial broadcasting in mind. The Commission should maintain a licensing system that serves the public interest and aspires to improve public broadcasting for all communities.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Of Counsel

Melissa Lin

Law Student Randi M. Albert, Esq.

Georgetown University Law Center Jeneba Jalloh, Esq.

Citizens Communications Center Project

Institute for Public Representation

Georgetown University Law Center

600 New Jersey Avenue, N.W., Suite 312

Washington, D.C. 20001

March 15, 1999 (202) 662-9535

 


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