Coalition Faults FCC Bid to Repack TV Stations in Spectrum Guard Bands

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

By Lydia Beyoud

July 7 — A coalition of broadcasters, tech companies and public interest groups urged the FCC July 7 not to repack TV stations into spectrum guard bands intended for use by unlicensed Wi-Fi and wireless microphone users following the 2016 spectrum auction.

The letter signed by 18 groups comes ahead of the Federal Communications Commission's July 16 meeting, where the commission will vote on a public notice and other items related to the first-of-its-kind spectrum incentive auction, to be held in 2016. The coalition includes Microsoft Corp., the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation.

The coalition said the opportunity to bring in more revenue in the auction by repacking broadcasters into the duplex gap shouldn't supersede public policy and congressional intent previously adopted by the Commission in earlier rules.

At stake in the incentive auction is arguably some of the best spectrum for wireless carriers: an estimated 100 megahertz (MHz) of “beachfront” 600 MHz airwaves, which the commission will try to reclaim from television stations and then sell to wireless carriers, with a portion of the proceeds to be paid back to the broadcasters. The mobile industry is expecting valuable, low-band spectrum appreciated for its in-building penetration characteristics, while Congress is expecting billions of dollars in revenue for the General Treasury. Broadcasters that choose to stay in business will have their signals repacked into different spectrum bands, with the potential for spectrum sharing.

However, an FCC provision currently under consideration threatens to gum up the works of the auction for multiple industries, the coalition said in its letter to the FCC.

Keeping Gaps Usable

“Relocating television stations in the duplex gap in certain markets will render the gap in those markets unusable by either unlicensed devices or wireless microphones in those areas where the penetration characteristics of low-band spectrum are most needed,” the groups said. An FCC proposal includes such a repacking scenario in the Baltimore, Detroit, Los Angeles and Philadelphia markets, among others.

Such a move would prevent news teams from getting access to spectrum to broadcast breaking news, and would also stymie private investment in Wi-Fi chips and devices that require national markets, the letter said.

The FCC's 2014 report and order on the auction decided to include an 11 MHz-wide Duplex Gap in every market nationwide. The spectrum would be available for unlicensed use by stadiums and churches using wireless microphones, breaking news crews, TV white spaces, and other unlicensed uses.

The proposal to repack broadcasters into the duplex gap was revealed in a May 20 Wireless Telecommunications Bureau public notice on the incentive auction task force's initial clearing target optimization simulations for broadcasters. Opponents of the provision said it was a reversal of the FCC's auction rules and contrary to congressional intent.

Interference Protection

CTIA—The Wireless Association told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail that the FCC should prioritize maximizing the amount of commercial licensed mobile spectrum over the impacts on the availability of unlicensed spectrum. “It is paramount that the FCC’s final rules provide certainty and full interference protection for the licensed operators that will be asked to bid billions of dollars to ensure the auction’s success,” said Scott Bermann, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs.

The wireless industry association also opposed placing TV stations in the duplex gap because of their ability to interfere with licensed operations in the 600 MHz block, according to a Feb. 20 filing.

The coalition asked the FCC to reconsider an earlier proposal to repack TV broadcasters into either the uplink or downlink section of the wireless portion of the 600 MHz band.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Text of the letter is at https://static.newamerica.org/attachments/3618-broadcasters-and-unlicensed-advocates-file-letter-opposing-fcc-incentive-auction-plan/LetterOnDuplexGap_12-268_FINAL.1a16ddaaab624395a025f0eece4b67e5.pdf.

Text of the May 20 public notice is at https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-15-606A1.pdf.

Text of CTIA's filing is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001032103.