Skip to main content

Editorial: Unlicensed Not to Serve

The FCC has proposed reserving a channel after the auction for unlicensed wireless, but not for noncommercial TV stations. The apparent choice of Google over Grover should perhaps not be a big surprise for an FCC laser-focused on broadband.

The FCC also signaled in reserving that unlicensed channel that it could affect the repacking options of both full-power and low-power stations, leaving both feeling a little like second-class citizens in their own spectrum band, or what was once theirs.

The FCC is not planning on reserving a channel for wireless microphones either, which are used for everything from Broadway shows to remote TV newsgathering. They will have to share the channel with other unlicensed devices, having already seen their spectrum homes downsized in the last DTV transition.

You can hardly blame broadcasters for feeling like spectrum stepchildren.

Low-power TV’s translators, and even some full-power ones, will have their post-auction options limited if repacking them might not leave enough room for the unlicensed channel. In fact, the FCC rejected all the petitions from those low-power broadcasters, who then signaled last week that they were prepping for another trip to court as a result.

At presstime it was not clear whether noncommercial stations would sue, or just stew, over the FCC’s rejection. According to sources, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler met with them to assuage their concerns and assure them he was also interested in preserving noncommercial TV, but not to the extent of guaranteeing a channel reservation in every market.

Wheeler is clearly convinced of the rightness of his positions and their importance in the sweep of broadband history. But as the FCC rewrites the rulebook on spectrum, broadcasters should not be relegated to a footnote.