Public TV claims FCC wants to shrink its reach

Public broadcasters are warning that some people could lose access to “Sesame Street,” “NewsHour” and other educational shows.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) denied the broadcasters’ request to ensure that every community has access to the free public TV after it redistributes the nation’s airwaves, according to the broadcasters.

“We believe the Commission’s rejection of this long-standing policy is a grievous error that risks breaking faith with the nation’s commitment to universal service for non-commercial educational television,” the heads of PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Association of Public Television Stations said in a statement.

The chiefs said they had “profound disappointment” in the decision, which rejects “one of public television’s most important policy goals” in the spectrum auction process.

Under the Public Broadcasting Act, stations like PBS are supposed to reach every American in the country. For decades, the FCC has reserved chunks of the spectrum for non-commercial educational TV, but the public broadcasters accused it of ending that pattern with its new auction.

The voluntary auction, set for next year, will have the FCC offer money to broadcast companies who currently hold licenses to the nation’s airwaves. The commission will resell those licenses to wireless companies like Verizon and AT&T, which are hungry to keep up with users’ demands to access more data on their phones and tablets.

Aside from objections about their reach, the public broadcasters say the commission is doing a good job with the auction.

Measures providing advance payments for stations that decide to sell their licenses and allowing some stations to share channels are “significant policy decisions benefiting public television and its viewers,” the groups said.