Image of MSU’s Communication Arts Building, courtesy of MSU
Local PBS station WKAR-TV may be leaving the airwaves forever, but not before two public forums intended to educate and give voice to the community regarding MSU’s option to sell off the station’s broadcast spectrum for what could come to hundreds of millions of dollars. The first of those forums takes place tomorrow night, Monday, January 4th, at 7:00 p.m.
MSU President Lou Anna Simon has until January 12 to decide whether to include the station’s broadcast spectrum in an auction that could bring millions of dollars to the University, but require WKAR-TV to cease broadcast operations completely. MSU’s Board of Trustees holds the WKAR-TV license. The Board has already voted to give decision-making power on this matter to Simon.
If its spectrum is sold, WKAR-TV could potentially stream programming to viewers over the internet and/or be available through local cable service (at a cost), but free broadcast of WKAR-TV would no longer be available to local TV viewers.
Simon’s decision to submit an initial application on January 12 would not commit MSU to participate in the March auction, but assure that a place was reserved for the station.
The Broadcast Television Incentive Auction is an operation of the FCC aimed at freeing broadcast spectrum space on the airwaves for the use of mobile providers. According to the FCC, such auctions “will permit television broadcasters to voluntarily go off the air, share their spectrum or move channels in exchange for receiving part of the proceeds from auctioning that spectrum to wireless providers to support 21st century wireless broadband needs.”
The auction, technically a reverse auction, would impact only WKAR-TV and not WKAR-FM or WKAR-AM radio.
As a practical matter, participation in the FCC auction would mean that the station’s current broadcast spectrum would be auctioned by the FCC to one or more mobile providers, and that MSU would receive a portion of the selling price. The FCC has placed a value of at least $206 million on WKAR-TV’s share of the airwaves.
Simon explained on WKAR’s Current State that even if the auction occurs, the University intends to make current WKAR-TV content available through other means, including internet streaming. She also indicated a commitment on the part of local cable providers to make PBS content available to the community. (Listen to Simon’s explanation of the process and the factors she plans to consider here.)
WKAR is holding two public forums before January 12, both of which promise to provide more details about the auction and its possible impact, and to allow community members to “offer feedback.” The first forum is tomorrow night, Monday, January 4, at 7:00 p.m. and the second will take place Monday, January 11, at 7:00 p.m. Both will be held in Room 147 of the Communication Arts and Sciences building located at 404 Wilson Road.
Details on the forums as well as more information on parking (which is free after 6:00 p.m.) are available here.