The One Essential Warning the FCC Needs to Hear

Things look rather grim right now for those of us in broadcasting – radio, television and cable – who rely on satellite for content delivery.

Last month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted the Notice for Proposed Rule Making, or NPRM, that lays out their plan to allow the expansion of 5G into satellite’s mid-band frequency – the exact frequency that thousands of C-band fixed satellite earth stations use 24/7/365 to cost-effectively receive video and/or audio content.

Oh, the FCC Commission is still encouraging broadcasters to register their C-band downlinks – and if you haven’t, you really need to do so. TODAY. The FCC says they need feedback – specifically on where C-band receive fixed earth-stations are located.

But never ONCE – either in the NPRM or any other comments made by FFC Chairman Ajit Pai or his merry band of Commissioners – does there seem to be any acknowledgement, any realization, that the cost of “sharing” the mid-band frequency is too high a price for broadcasters to pay.

Especially for radio and television stations operating in rural America.

Chairman Pai, are you listening? If the NPRM passes as is, the 5G/C-band ruling will put a grave financial and technical burden on every radio, television and cable head-end that operates a C-band downlink, but none more so than in small communities.

Here’s why.

What makes small town radio and television broadcasting viable in the US is the affordability of programming. With C-band as their mechanism for content delivery, networks have an economical source for programming.

How is it so economical? Because the installation of C-band downlinks is a one-time capital expense. And for broadcasters, that’s usually all they pay. In many cases, content providers do not charge for the inventory they provide – programming is bartered. As for the equipment? A receive-only antenna lasts for years. In normal weather conditions a downlink will be operational for at least a decade.

What’s more, the small-market station is an essential part of the community in which it broadcasts. From EAS and Amber Alerts to fierce thunderstorms and major weather phenomena, local radio and television takes pride in keeping their community informed. Being a resource in times of emergency is ingrained in our broadcast DNA.

With a disruption by 5G broadband in C-band delivery, small market broadcasting (and the majority in medium and large markets) will likely be forced to hobble some combination of less reliable terrestrial and maybe Ku band solutions together to receive programming. And hodge-podging a solution together – even if it did work – will not be affordable for small market radio. Generating their own content for a 24/7 station is financially out of the question, as well.

So what options do small market broadcasters have? If their resources for programming are eliminated, then it’s just a matter of time before these stations will no longer be capable of maintaining their broadcast operations.

Thanks to 5G interference, these rural, small market radio and television will cease to exist, and subsequently will no longer be an essential part of the community in which they operate.

And THAT, Chairman Pai, would be the real tragedy.

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