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Editorial: Flying Pigs

“…when wireless companies and broadcasters get together on the direction of the incentive auction….” Once upon a time, that clause could have been substituted for the “when pigs fly” colloquialism meaning something that had zero chance of happening. None.

And yet that is exactly what happened when the FCC released its initial band plan—the blueprint for how those broadcasters and wireless companies will share spectrum after the auction, when wireless companies will presumably be buying up reclaimed broadcast spectrum.

The FCC plan would repurpose different amounts of spectrum in different markets, but it would also allow for broadcasters and wireless carriers to use the same channel in adjacent markets, which the National Association of Broadcasters, AT&T and other industry players argue would cause either interference or require such geographic separation that it would render some wireless licenses effectively unusable.

The two industries countered with their own plan that does not mix wireless and broadcast spectrum and provides clear guard bands to prevent interference, then suggested the FCC needed to collect public input on that proposal.

The commission did, but with a thumb on the scale for its original take. It said that the alternative “down from 51” band plans “favor certainty of the operating environment over the utility of providing the maximum amount of spectrum through flexibility to offer a greater quantity of spectrum in geographic areas where more spectrum is available.” If that ensuring the certainty of the operating environment means broadcasters and wireless companies can coexist without causing interference to each service, it sounds like a good idea from here.

Meanwhile, pigs were flying once again last week. In an unprecedented move, AT&T and the NAB teamed on a joint blog posting taking the FCC to task for a “disconnect” between their goal of a successful auction and a successful broadcast and wireless landscape going forward, and the commission’s insistence on a band plan that intermingles broadcasters and wireless companies in a way both argue can lead to interference.

We trust the FCC will keep an open mind when those comments come in, and perhaps give some weight to the fact that the trade associations representing the key participants on both sides of the auction—associations that have battled in the past over the auctions—are speaking in one voice to say the band plan is off-base. This auction can determine the future course of broadcasting and wireless broadband, which is fast becoming the broadband deliverer of choice. Getting it wrong is not an option.