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Clyburn to the Rescue: Commissioner Proposes to Allocate Spectrum to More NCE, Low Power FM & AM

Finally, some movement on an issue that is not related to Network Neutrality: Spectrum Allocation.  The excellent news out of the FCC recently is that Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has announced that she will push for two non widely used channels on the broadcast spectrum, analog television channels 5 and 6, to be reallocated and used for noncommercial educational (“NCE”), low power FM and the conversion of AM radio stations to frequency modulation (FM) service.   The spectrum allocated to analog channels 5 and 6 sits just below the FM band’s lower limit of 88 MHz.

In a June 10 speech, the Commissioner stated,

It is time for us to take a serious look at where these services fit within the overall spectrum plan, and that Channels 5 and 6 maybe a good home. I will be encouraging my colleagues to take a look at this issue as we move forward with a long-term spectrum program, and I urge you to continue to weigh in about how the services you provide are worthy of a hard look when it comes to this spectrum in particular.

In recent history, NCE, Low Power and AM radio have been essential for the incubation and training of the next generation of broadcast executives and station owners. In particular, for many minorities, the experience working at an LPFM, AM or NCE station has enabled them to train and be better prepared to work at larger stations and in larger markets.  Two thirds of minority owned radio stations are AM stations.   Minority and women owners of these stations have used ownership of these properties as gateways for later owning other stations.

I was particularly excited to learn of this development. Although there are lower barriers to entry for owning a low power FM station, NCE or AM radio station, there are still significant challenges starting with the fact that broadcast licenses, in general, are hard to come by and are extremely rare. You usually have to acquire one as a spin off because small station owners pass down their stations through generations and rarely sell them to other parties.

Civil rights organizations enthusiastically support the migration of AM stations to analog channels 5 and 6, where they would be transformed into FM stations.  This move would rescue minority broadcast ownership – now standing at only 7% of all stations and dropping fast – and triple the value of AM radio.

Kudos to Commissioner Clyburn for taking the lead and initiative!

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