How the government may kill your TV and radio signal

As a side effect of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s recent effort to repurpose the wireless spectrum, some TV and radio stations may lose out or be kicked off the air entirely.

In March of 2016, the FCC held an incentive auction designed to bring the spectrum up to 21st-century standards.  This auction allowed companies such as Dish Network and T-Mobile to purchase nearly $20 billion's worth of low-band airwaves for mobile broadband purposes.

Repurposing the spectrum does many great things for consumers, especially those who rely on cell phone or wi-fi technology.  One benefit is that cell phone providers may now utilize radio waves that transmit better phone call quality.

Additionally, consumers who live in metro areas will be relieved of stalled service during busy times or when in highly populated areas and will be able to call, text, and stream better than ever before.

However, without further government action, the FCC's auction will effectively select winners and losers in the marketplace.  As a component of the initiative, the commission "repacked" the television band, assigning approximately 1,000 television stations to new channels.

These reassignments have forced many cash-strapped broadcasters to make adjustments to their TV towers and antennas, incurring significant costs.

In order to mitigate the damage the government would bring to broadcasters, lawmakers established a $1.75-billion TV Broadcaster Relocation Fund as a part of the Spectrum Act of 2012 in order to "reimburse costs reasonably incurred by broadcasters who are relocated to new channels when broadcast spectrum is repacked following the auction."

Unfortunately, as deadlines to relocate loom within the 39-month period mandated by the FCC, the funds set aside may not be enough to mitigate imposed financial hardships.  In fact, broadcasters have requested approximately $2.1 billion to cover costs imposed by the auction.  The 2012 fund also did not provide any reparations to radio stations, but we now know that 678 channels are at risk from the repacking.

During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, FCC chairman Ajit Pai seemed to strike a sympathetic note, stating, "I expect it would be necessary, if broadcasters are going to be harmless in this repack, that Congress would have to provide additional funding."

Thankfully, through the incentive auction, the government earned over $7 billion, so compensating affected businesses should be relatively easy.

Moreover, there is ample precedent here – the government has always paid for the negative financial burdens it has imposed through exercising its authority.  Examples include reparations to farmers due to sparks from railroads entering their properties, and the commonly exercised "eminent domain."

There are currently several legislative solutions that would compensate affected broadcasters.  For instance, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) introduced the bipartisan "Viewer and Listener Protection Act of 2017" in July to ensure that broadcasters can continue to stay on the air.

Likewise, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) introduced the "Viewer Protection Act" in July.  In a similar vein, Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas) and Gene Green (D-Texas) introduced the "Radio Consumer Protection Act" in September to establish a reparations fund for affected radio stations, with unused funds returning to the U.S. Treasury.

The government has a responsibility to safeguard the free market and to refrain from picking winners or losers.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter what form the legislative solution takes as long as affected broadcasters are compensated fairly for their troubles.

Mitchell Gunter is a contributor to publications such as The Daily Caller, Heat Street, and FEE.  His work has been cited by national outlets, including Tucker Carlson Tonight, National Review, and the Washington Times.  Follow him on Twitter at @rMitchellGunter.