Keep Broadcasters Out of Duplex Gap: De Blasio to FCC

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By Lydia Beyoud

Aug. 3 — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has joined a chorus of groups weighing in against the FCC's proposal to move some broadcasters' signals in a spectrum band allocated for unlicensed users as part of its 2016 auction plan.

De Blasio counsel Maya Wiley asked the Federal Communications Commission in a July 30 letter to find an alternative to its plan to repack full-power broadcast TV stations into the so-called duplex gap guard band, which is particularly useful in major urban areas like New York City. Wiley highlighted concerns of the news and theatre industries as “vital sectors of the economy” that could be impacted by the FCC's plan.

The letter comes as the agency prepares to vote Aug. 6 on incentive auction procedures, including the repacking proposal. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler postponed a planned July vote on the procedures after an outcry against the duplex gap proposal. The FCC has argued it is necessary to meet its spectrum clearing targets and generate more auction revenue.

Wiley told the agency the proposal could endanger de Blasio's goal of deploying universal broadband in the city by 2025, including a $70 million commitment to invest in wireless corridors to increase competition and reach underserved areas.

Having a dedicated common channel available for unlicensed users in every market nationwide, as the FCC originally proposed, “is essential to encourage private investment in the integrated Wi-Fi chips that will bring greatest value to smartphone users in urban areas,” Wiley said.

As a TV broadcast license holder (WNYE-TV) itself, the city is contemplating “the potential benefits of relinquishing its license in the auction” of broadcast airwaves for sale to wireless carriers, Wiley said. However, she underscored the idea that relocating broadcasters into the duplex gap could discourage bids from wireless carriers worried about interference to downlink capacity.

Besides de Blasio, the wireless industry and public interest groups have kept pressure on the commissioners' offices and agency staff to find another solution.

NAB Wants Top 25 Free of Impairment

In the leadup to the FCC's Aug. 6 vote on the issue, among a host of other auction-related items, stakeholders seem resigned to the idea that the commission will proceed with repacking some broadcasters in up to six markets into the gap, according to the filings.

The stakeholders are now making a variety of suggestions on the details of the agency's plan.

In a July 30 filing, the National Association of Broadcasters said it had offered to accept Wheeler's public statement that duplex gap impairments would affect no more than six markets.

The trade group put forward a two-pronged proposal intended to minimize interference: that the FCC could only impair up to six markets with one TV station each, and none of the markets could be in the Top 25— which would preclude the New York and Los Angeles markets from being impaired; and the agency couldn't add any new TV impairments in the wireless band, whether it be in the guard bands, the duplex gap or uplink/downlink, after it establishes a clearing target.

“Thus, if a volunteering station elects to drop out of the auction and cannot be repacked in the broadcast portion of the band, the Commission must buy that station at its last accepted price,” said Patrick McFadden, NAB vice president of spectrum policy and legal and regulatory affairs in the filing.

Sprint Corp. seemed to accept that the FCC would include its proposal to repack into the duplex gap in its auction rules, according to a July 30 filing. However, it questioned NAB's proposal as potentially eliminating agency flexibility when repacking “thereby creating unnecessary constraints that could drive the clearing target optimization process to an unduly small band plan.”

The wireless carrier asked the FCC to keep TV stations in the downlink portion of the 600 megahertz band “since it will maximize the amount of low-impairment, bi-directional spectrum available for auction, as downlink impairments will impact co-channel device receivers over much shorter distances than the alternatives.”

Support for ‘Second Vacant Channel' Alternative

Meanwhile, a number of public interest groups lent their support to a proposed alternative to the duplex gap repack by Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and the FCC auction team. Under that proposal, the FCC would explore whether a second vacant channel in the remaining TV band could be made available for unlicensed use after the repacking of the markets where it's necessary to locate a broadcaster in the gap, according to a July 30 filing.

The groups, including Common Cause, Free Press, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, asked the FCC to “at least tentatively approve” such a proposal on Aug. 6.

The groups said the FCC should at a minimum “find a substitute channel of 6 megahertz in the affected markets where unlicensed devices can operate at a power no less than 40 milliwatts” if it can't avoid relocating broadcasters into the duplex gap.

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 Mayor De Blasio's letter is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001119301.

Text of NAB's ex parte is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001120274.

Text of Sprint's ex parte is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001119289.

Text of public interest groups' ex parte is at http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=60001119602.