FCC Suspends Comment Deadline on Vacant-Channel Proposal

The FCC has suspended the comment deadlines on its proposal to allocate the last vacant channel in a market to unlicensed use as part of its incentive auction framework.

The comments had been due Aug. 3, with replies due Aug. 31.

Broadcasters have expressed concerns that would prioritize unlicensed devices over licensed low-power TV stations in the post-incentive auction repack.

The National Association of Broadcasters last week asked the FCC for a limited extension of those deadlines given that the FCC is not scheduled to vote on its incentive auction procedures public notice—it had originally been scheduled for a July 16 vote.

"NAB points out that the Commission is considering whether to allow a limited number of broadcast television stations to be reassigned during the incentive auction and repacking process to channels within the 'duplex gap' established as part of the 600 MHz Band Plan," FCC Media Bureau chief Bill Lake said in announcing the delay.

"If the commission decides to allow a limited number of broadcast television stations to be reassigned to channels within the duplex gap, NAB points out that it could impact the use of the duplex gap by white space devices and wireless microphones. Given the potential impact of the Commission’s decision on the availability of channels for use by white space devices and wireless microphones, NAB submits that the Commission will have a better, more informed record in this proceeding if comments are filed after the release of the forthcoming decision on incentive auction procedures."

The Media Bureau agreed that a delay was warranted given the duplex gap issue. Some wireless companies have proposed opening a second channel for unlicensed in the handful of markets where the FCC says it would need unlicensed and wireless mics to share the gap with a TV station. If the FCC wants to take that approach, it would likely need to seek comment on that variation on the vacant channel proposal

"The proposals set forth in the Vacant Channel NPRM are animated by a concern that, following the incentive auction and the repacking process, there will be fewer unused television channels available for use by white space devices and wireless microphones," Lake said. "The Commission’s decision on final auction procedures may impact the availability of television channels for use by such devices in certain areas [just what those areas will be are of definite interest to low-power station owners, though FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled the FCC won't know exactly where until the auction plays out]."

"A brief suspension of the comment cycle in this proceeding would allow interested parties to address this potential impact in their comments and will also allow the Commission to determine new deadlines in light of its decision," Lake said.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.