FCC Tees Up Initial Broadcast Spectrum Reclamation Moves
The FCC next month will take the first big steps toward freeing up broadcast and other spectrum for wireless
broadband, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski plans to announce at a spectrum "summit" at the FCC Thursday.
The FCC will release a new analysis of the spectrum crisis, and will try to encourage some broadcasters to move off
some of their spectrum and others to move into the VHF band.
But FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski made a point of including broadcasters in his vision
of that mobile future, telling B&C that they can still be leaders in
a broadband revolution. Some however, will be expected to
do that while sharing channels and moving from the UHF to the VHF dial.
At its November 30 public meeting, The chairman will seek
public comment on proposed new rules to help tee up that spectrum
search-and-recovery mission if Congress gives it the AOK.
"What the commission is considering in November will lay the groundwork for incentive auctions if Congress decides
to act," the Chairman told B&C. "We can move as quickly as possible so that there does not need to be a delay
between any congressional action and moving forward on freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband."
The FCC could auction the spectrum without congressional approval, and can lay that technical groundwork for
recovery incentive auctions or not, but if it is to give a percentage of the proceeds to broadcasters as incentive
to give up spectrum--and broadcasters will almost surely not volunteer to give up spectrum for nothing--Congress
has to approve that outlay from the treasury.
According to the FCC, results from a recent analysis indicate that there will be a 300 MHz spectrum shortage over
the next five years (the FCC is trying to free up 500 MHz). "Subscriptions to mobile data services have increased
by 40 percent in the latest six-month period of FCC reporting, and the average amount of data used per mobile device has increased by over four times during the last five quarters (Q1 2009 through Q2 2010)," the FCC says.
In an interview with B&C/Multichannel, the Chairman outlined the proposed rulemakings.
Primarily, and as already signaled in the broadband plan, the commission will have to change rules on the
allocation of the broadcast spectrum to allow mobile broadband use, as well as change the rules to allow for
channel-sharing by broadcasters. "Those are barriers we need to lift," Genachowski told B&C/Multichannel.
The FCC will also propose finding ways to improve DTV reception on the VHF band (chs. 2-13) so more broadcasters
can be moved there and out of the UHF band (14-51), which is better suited than UHF for wireless broadband. Of
course, it is also better suited to DTV broadcasts, as broadcasters found during the DTV transition. That is why
the FCC needs to find ways to make it more attractive.
"UHF has characteristics that are stronger for mobile broadband," said Genachowski, "and we want to look at
proposals to improve VHF so it is more desirable for digital broadcasting so that we can end up with as much UHF
spectrum as possible released for mobile broadband and broadcasters being very comfortable with VHF."
Also being teed up are notices to expand experimental licensing, which Genachowski says have proven to be "very
successful." He cited the advent of cars with screens to provide views of what is behind them when they are backing
up. "That actually requires spectrum, and during its development there was an FCC experimental license that
accelerated [no pun intended] its development.
He says given all the innovation that can and happen
around spectrum, allowing more experimentation can help move ideas from
the lab to real-world testing. "That will also help the FCC make
decisions faster," he said, "because it
gets on-the-ground experience with interference issues."
A third notice will look at accelerating "opportunistic uses" like secondary market leasing for unused or underused
spectrum. That will not be limited to the broadcast band, he says.
The summary of the FCC's proposals talks again about the win-win-win nature of incentive auctions, identifying the
broadcasters win as a capital infusion.
Asked whether that was all broadcasters would be getting out of the deal, the Chairman said it was not.
"I think broadcasters are in a strong position by virtue of their experience with spectrum to develop breakthrough
innovations that can be an important part of our mobile future. So, all of the things that we do, including
experimental licensing, that encourage spectrum-related innovation creates opportunities for broadcasters, who are
real spectrum experts, to develop new products and new services, and not only participate in and help lead the
mobile broadband revolution," he said.
The Chairman told B&C the FCC is releasing data Thursday that shows the increasingly urgent need to free up
spectrum. He said that data shows a spectrum deficit hitting 300 MHz in the next five year, which means consumers
will start having "real challenges" taking advantage of mobile broadband," he says.
"The spectrum summit is intended to accelerate progress on tackling spectrum challenges and seizing the
"NAB looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure that efficient spectrum deployment matches actual spectrum demand, and that America's leadership in providing the finest free and local broadcasting system in the world is not compromised," said National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton.
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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.