PBS president voices concern over TV-to-wireless auction

President and CEO of PBS Paula Kerger speaks during the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour on July 28, 2016, in Beverly Hills.
(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

This year’s auction to shift public airwaves from carrying TV signals to delivering wireless services for mobile devices has PBS President Paula Kerger concerned a “great deal.”

Kerger, speaking Thursday during the PBS portion of the Television Critics Assn. media tour In Beverly Hills, said that Federal Communications Commission rules prevent her from discussing individual stations. But she stressed the potential impact of stations going dark.

“It’s an issue that does concern me a great deal,” Kerger said. “There are a number of people across the country that rely on over-the-air television.”

The FCC plans to use a complex auction to shift a large swath of public airwaves from carrying TV signals to delivering wireless services to smartphones and other data-hungry mobile devices.


As a result, the stations that sell their airwaves could go off the air, depriving large sections of the U.S. free access to noncommercial TV. PBS requires its member stations to broadcast over the air, meaning a station would not be able to be a cable-only entity.

There were roughly 12.3 million homes — or about 11% — that depended solely on over-the-air broadcasting for their live TV viewing in 2015, according to audience measurement service Nielsen.

“I hope as we go through the process that we don’t have places in this country that will be unserved by television, and I hope that we particularly won’t have places that will be unserved by public television,” Kerger said.

The second-round of the two-part auction begins next month.

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