FCC Urged Not to Reallocate Spectrum From LPTV Stations to Wireless Industry

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By Brandon Ross

Feb. 3 — The Federal Communications Commission shouldn't make spectrum available to the wireless industry at the expense of licensed, low-power TV and translator stations, the National Association of Broadcasters said.

The FCC's process of writing rules in connection with the 2016 broadcast TV incentive spectrum auction has sparked fighting across the broadcasting and wireless industries. After the incentive auction, many TV stations will be displaced and have their channels reassigned, though the extent of the spectrum reallocation has yet to be decided as rulemakings continue.

Wireless industry advocates want the FCC to explore the possibility of forcing low-power TV, or LPTV, stations to share channels, in order to create white space channels that would make way for unlicensed wireless users to use the spectrum.

The NAB strongly opposes forcing LPTV stations into any such sharing arrangements.

“No station should be forced onto a new channel merely to create contiguous white spaces for unlicensed use,” the Feb. 2 NAB filing said. “White spaces devices must operate on, as the name implies, actual white spaces—channels not in use so as to prevent interference with licensed services.”

CTIA-The Wireless Association countered in a Feb. 3 filing that the NAB position “would force the Commission to be bound by the ‘least common denominator' problem that it seeks to avoid.”

“There are certain uncontrollable factors that may result in less spectrum being reclaimed in certain markets,” CTIA said. “These markets should not be permitted to constrain the rest of the nation, and such an outcome would contravene the ultimate objectives of the Spectrum Act.”

LPTV ‘Secondary.'

The FCC shouldn't favor unlicensed spectrum users more than incumbent LPTV stations, the NAB said. The spectrum is being used by LPTV stations for various uses, the organization said.

“It’s not like there’s spectrum just sitting there,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton told Bloomberg BNA in a Feb. 3 interview. “When a broadcaster is operating over the airwaves, they’re using 6 megahertz of spectrum,” Wharton said, refuting unlicensed-use advocates' claim that the spectrum allowed to LPTV stations wasn't being fully used.

“Somehow, [The Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation and Public Knowledge] put a higher value on unlicensed spectrum, which usually ends up in the hands of Google and Microsoft,” Wharton said.

LPTV stations bring specialized programming, such as hyper-local programs or religious programs, to underserved communities, and they do it for free and in high-definition, Wharton said.

But CTIA was clear about where LPTV stations stand next to the needs of unlicensed, wireless use.

“Given the secondary status of LPTV and TV translator stations, permitting the ‘least common denominator' problem as a means of protecting secondary licensees—who were granted no expanded rights under the Spectrum Act—would be particularly problematic,” the Feb. 3 CTIA filing said.

LPTV Stations Not Protected?

The CTIA filing said that the FCC could use the channel sharing as a way to protect licensed LPTV and translator stations while expanding the spectrum available for unlicensed use.

“Although the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 ('Spectrum Act')—consistent with the secondary status of LPTV and TV translator stations—does not grant auction participation or repacking rights to LPTV and TV translator licensees, the Commission has initiated this proceeding ‘to consider additional measures that may help alleviate the consequences of LPTV and TV translator station displacements resulting from the auction and repacking process,' ” the CTIA filing said.

The NAB argues that the FCC is obligated to protect LPTV stations and translator stations.

“Unlicensed operations do not have, and are not entitled to, any priority over licensed operations under the Commission’s existing rules or in the incentive auction repacking process,” the Feb. 2 NAB filing said. “To the contrary, while the Spectrum Act permits (but does not require) the FCC to allow unlicensed operations in guard bands, these bands must be ‘no larger than technically reasonable to prevent interference between licensed services.'”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

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