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Spectrum Auction Q & A

April 14, 2017


1. What is the spectrum auction?

The incentive auction is one part of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to move all television signals down the broadcast spectrum to free up spectrum for wireless networks. Television signals currently span the spectrum, leaving small, random bands between channels. Consolidation is necessary to establish contiguous space higher on the spectrum to meet the demand for wireless broadband use to increase their capacity to support the critical economic, public safety, health care, and other activities that rely on them.

The FCC asked television stations across the country to voluntarily relinquish broadcast spectrum usage rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds from an auction of new licenses to use the repurposed spectrum.

For more information about the spectrum auction, please visit the FCC website.


2. Will future programming capacity be diminished or will there be a change in how I receive Rhode Island PBS TV channels?

There will be no change for the majority of our viewers who receive our programming through a cable provider (e.g. Cox, Full Channel, Verizon). Over the air viewers who receive our programming through a traditional broadcast signal will be asked to re-scan their digital receivers or televisions to find our new channel assignment once the new transmitter is installed and operational. We expect the installation to be complete in about two years.

The auction will have no impact on Rhode Island PBS's current ability to distribute content to our community. We can accept these proceeds without diminishing our existing offering. In fact, this is an opportunity to focus on the continued improvement our services and of our technical infrastructure. Furthermore, technologies on the horizon, like the new broadcast standard ATSC 3.0, will make our broadcasts more interactive and flexible. 


3. How will Rhode Island PBS use the proceeds from the auction?

Proceeds will cover the expenses associated with our channel move, including building the new transmitter, upgrades to our production and programming equipment, and needed repairs to the physical plant. Investments in this area are long overdue as no significant technology upgrades have occurred in more than 10 years. The balance of the proceeds will be invested in improving our community services, upgrading our education services, and expanding our production, programs, and digital capacity.

We serve a culturally rich community and we plan to invest in content that highlight the assets of our community. There is no shortage of great ideas and topics; however, until now, we have been financially constrained from delivering on these. Our lineup of local productions will be increased and soon you will enjoy additional informative programs like A Lively Experiment, Rhode Island Classroom, and Community Conversations.


4. How did Rhode Island PBS decide how to use the auction proceeds?

The need for technology upgrades and repairs to the physical plant played a big part in the decision of how to use the auction proceeds. Upgrades to the digital broadcasting and production equipment have not been made in more than 10 years. Major repairs to the building and grounds have been deferred due to a lack of funds to make appropriate repairs. In addition, in the fall of 2016 the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island PBS Foundation formulated a new strategic plan. Through several brainstorming meetings, an in-depth planning retreat and with the assistance of a management consultant, the framework for the new strategic plan came together. A copy of this plan will be available on our website in May under the “About” tab.


5. Will you continue to need federal funding, on air pledges and donor contributions to support the station’s operations?

Financial support from viewers and sponsors is primarily allocated to program acquisition, production, as well as content and broadcast rights. Yes, absolutely, we will continue to rely on financial support from the community. Contributions have been and will continue to be essential to the long-term health of Rhode Island PBS, so your continued support will remain critically important. In addition, auction revenue is a one-time payment to the Rhode Island PBS Foundation, a community non-profit organization, and the proceeds will allow us to provide additional public services that we could not previously afford. Members and supporters are our connection to the community. The future growth and success of the station will rely upon expanding and strengthening these connections.


6. Why am I only hearing about this now?

Until recently, we have been bound by strict FCC and legal requirements not to speak about the auction. Only our board members and senior staff were directly involved in the auction process. All were legally bound to non-disclosure. 


7. This spectrum you sold was a public asset. Are you using the proceeds for public purposes?

License holders who are receiving auction proceeds can use the revenue in whatever manner they choose, and proceeds may be used for purposes outside of public broadcasting. At Rhode Island PBS, we are proud to say that our Board has chosen to use the proceeds for our public purpose and mission. Earnings from the proceeds will be invested in improving our community services, upgrading our education services, and expanding our production, programs, and digital capacity. These efforts are the very essence of our mission. The Rhode Island PBS Foundation Board pledges that all uses of auction proceeds will be 100% in support of our public service mission and our community.


8. The Rhode Island PBS Foundation Board of Directors indicated that the proceeds will be deposited in a board-designated endowment. What exactly does this mean?

That is correct -- these auction proceeds will be placed into a board-designated endowment. That means the Board of the Rhode Island PBS Foundation controls the investment and use of these funds. Some of the earnings from the endowment might be added to Rhode Island PBS's annual revenues. We plan to use the earnings to fund the initiatives that are focused on serving Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. But we will be able to make these goals come to life only with continued support from our sponsors and donors. These big ideas will be years in the making.

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