Television stations must obtain a license from the Federal Communications Commission because the useful radio frequency spectrum is limited and can only carry so much traffic. Once licensed, a broadcaster is permitted to sell advertising to earn its income. However, an important criterion in obtaining and keeping a license to use the limited public bandwidth is that the broadcasting station serve the PUBLIC INTEREST.
Almost 40 years ago a Boston-based station, WHDH, learned this lesson when the FCC pulled its license to use Channel 5 and gave it to a competing group of broadcasters who promised more local programming operating under the call sign WCVB (Citizens Voice of Boston).
A new question of "operation in the public interest" arises in Utica with the demands by WKTV that Time Warner Cable pay WKTV for the use of WKTV's content -- content that the FCC has authorized to be placed for free on the public airwaves in the Utica area -- and content that is of no interest to anyone living outside the Utica area.
Back when cable TV was in its infancy locally, it was called a COMMUNITY ANTENNA Television System, i.e., people using cable were using it as their antenna. For local TV stations, that is still the case today.
WKTV knows that any money it charges to Time Warner for "use" of its signal will ultimately be charged back to the cable subscriber.
So why should people choosing cable as their antenna have to pay WKTV a charge, while those using a regular antenna do not? It would appear that WKTV is not operating in the public interest when it blocks its signal from 70,000 or so local viewers . . . especially after going days without over-the-air broadcasts a few months back.
WKTV appears to be changing the model for local television from free over-the-air to pay-cable TV. If that is the model it wishes to operate under, then, perhaps, its air spectrum could be better used for some other purpose.