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FCC Plans to Defer Co-Primary Designation for Wireless in Broadcast Band

According to sources inside and outside the FCC, the commission will not re-designate wireless broadband a co-primary user of broadcast spectrum in its April 27 vote to create the initial framework for channel sharing, part of its move to reclaim broadcast spectrum to for wireless.

Broadcasters have argued against the re-designation, particularly early in the process, years before the spectrum is actually reclaimed. "A co-primary designation will devalue local television station before a single wireless license is issued by introducing substantial regulatory uncertainty into the television industry," broadcast groups argued in a filing over a year ago.

A more targeted re-designation will likely come further down the line, when it applies only to the channels actually reallocated to wireless rather than the entire band. The FCC voted unanimously back in 2010 to propose making wireless a co-primary user.

But delaying that decision is a victory for the National Association of Broadcasters, which two weeks ago made a personal pitch to FCC officials that the decision on the co-primary designation should not be made until after the commission had come up with a plan for the reverse incentive auctions, according to an ex parte filing reported by TV Technology.

NAB was worried that giving wireless and broadcast equal status on the band now would be over-inclusive. It said it would be premature and "untimely."

"Giving co-primary priority to wireless services across the entire broadcast band is unprecedented on both a national and international level," said NAB execs in meetings with the FCC's Media Bureau earlier this month. "Moreover, insertion of new classes of operation such as fixed and mobile on a co-primary basis would not only stunt investment and innovation in the broadcast band, but could displace secondary broadcast services, such as Low Power Television and TV translators, currently operating in the band."

That argument "resonated" with the commission, according to a highly placed FCC official. Instead, the FCC will likely change the designation at the time it comes up with new service rules and peg it to the spectrum being reallocated.