The Federal Communications Commission, headed by a top 2008 Obama campaign advisor, is set Friday to lay the groundwork to auction off broadcast spectrum that several minority congressional caucuses say could limit or eliminate free TV to low income blacks, Hispanics, and Asians at a time when they can't afford cable.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Obama's former tech advisor, and the agency are meeting to implement legislation to auction off the spectrum of troubled TV stations, some of which serve minority audiences.
While the goal is to both get much-needed spectrum for mobile networks and help stations going out of business recover some money, minority lawmakers fear it will hit their constituents hardest at a time when the struggling economy is forcing many to cut off cable TV and return to free broadcast signals.
FCC critics charge that it is the first step in a broader plan to end free TV and hand over the broadcast spectrum to mobile operators, forcing all to pay for TV service. President Obama gave a hat tip to cable TV at a campaign event Thursday when he said, "Now, unless you've been living under a rock or you didn't pay your cable bill, you may be aware that there's an election going on here in Virginia."
The Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus warned in a letter to the FCC that their constituents would suffer if too much free TV spectrum was auctioned off to AT&T, Verizon, and others that want it for their wireless data network.
"Our constituents are more dependent on broadcast television than the general population," the caucuses said. According to the letter, 28 percent of Asian homes rely on free TV, along with 26 percent of Hispanic households and 23 percent of African-American houses.
Their concerns were backed up Thursday by Connecticut Sens. Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal and the state's House members who sent a similar letter that fretted losing too much free TV spectrum. Besides the cost issue, the lawmakers also said that free TV spectrum should remain robust to keep people informed when storms knock out towers that carry wireless networks.