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King County Council moves to protect region’s public airwaves

KING5-studioSEATTLE (March 17, 2016) — By unanimous vote, the Metropolitian King County Council on Monday passed a motion 9-0 that may well protect the region’s public airwaves and emergency broadcast systems.  Following a 3-0 vote by the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee on March 8, the councilmembers greenlighted the development of a report on the potential impacts of the upcoming auction of federally licensed broadcasting frequencies on King County taxpayers, residents and businesses.

“We need to speak out on issues such as this and make our voices heard because our constituency is the group that’s getting hurt the most,” said Councilman and GAO Chair Pete von Reichbauer during the hearing.

Councilman and motion sponsor Dave Upthegrove agreed. “There’s also a fundamental values question at stake underlying all of this. I feel like it’s sort of the playground of the billionaires. Buying and selling things in the billion-dollar range that are ultimately public assets,” he said.

Several community and labor leaders spoke on the issue at Monday’s hearing.

“I’ve heard these public airwaves compared to beachfront property,” said Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Once this scarce and irreplaceable resource is sold, it is gone. It’s privatized and subject to the whims of the market, not the greater public good.”

The upcoming auction of federally licensed broadcasting frequencies led by the FCC has raised alarm among the community, council members and labor groups. Corporate speculators of the public airwaves are looking to make a huge profit without regard to the potential impact such a purchase and reshuffling of spectrum would have on local residents and businesses. Handing such a valuable public asset over to the highest bidder has the potential for irreparable damage to the community that depends on these emergency spectrum airwaves in case of a public disaster.

The auction is scheduled to begin on March 29 and concerned groups believe local stations like Seattle’s KING 5 are first in line to be auctioned off by greedy speculators. These stations are required by federal law to inform and educate the community over the public airwaves. That will all be gone when these broadcast frequencies are sold off to private businesses.

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and former Councilmember Nick Licata are also onboard, speaking out against the possible sale of the public air space at town hall meetings last September.

Members from the following organizations have demonstrated support of these efforts: Washington Federation of State Employees, UFCW Local 21, IBEW locals 46 and 77, SPEEA-IFPTE Local 2001, IATSE Local 600, Teamsters Local 117, and the M.L. King County Labor Council.

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