FCC's Pai Pans Wireless Repack of TV Stations

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has a host of serious bones to pick with the FCC's incentive auction plans--particularly repacking TV stations in the wireless band--and has made them clear to members of the House Communications Subcommittee.

That is according to prepared testimony for a July 28 FCC oversight hearing featuring Pai, the senior Republican on the panel, and chairman Tom Wheeler.

Pai's concerns are over both the substance and process and while he was pleased the FCC put off a vote on the auction framework from July 16 to Aug. 6, he thinks the FCC should hold an en banc stakeholder hearing before holding that vote.

Pai says that, on the process side, the FCC has not provided broadcasters enough information and in a sufficiently timely manner. He also says his suggestions for improving the auction have fallen on deaf ears.

He says that he has heard complaints that the FCC has not supplied enough information for the public to assess the validity of the chairman's incentive auction procedures plan, and says he doesn't think he has gotten enough info to assess it either.

But one thing he appears sure of is that the plan repacks too many broadcasters in the wireless band, including the downlink portion.

Pai opposed putting broadcasters in the band at all, given the potential interference to both broadcasters and wireless operators. Behind the move is the FCC's desire for band plan variability that will allow it to reclaim as much spectrum as possible, rather than limiting it to the lowest common denominator.

Pai says he understands the need for variability, but primarily to accommodate border issues with Mexico and Canada, but he said the FCC plan allows for "far more" variability than necessary.

"Following the 700 MHz auction, the Commission and industry were forced to deal for years with the problems created by having channel 51 television broadcast stations right next to A-block spectrum that had been sold to the wireless industry (not to mention the fact that the auction raised significantly less revenues because of these problems)," says Pai. "I fear that the proposal that is now on the table, which would lead to co-channel and adjacent-channel interference, would make those problems look like child’s play."

He said that putting most of the TV stations in the downlink portion of the band--some are going in the uplink and duplex gap guard band--would be the most "damaging place possible." That is because it is easier for wireless carriers to filter out interference from stations in the uplink portion than the downlink, he said.

"[P]lacing broadcasters in the downlink spectrum rather than the uplink will make the spectrum sold in the forward auction less valuable," he says. "And placing broadcasters in the duplex gap will also cause downlink spectrum to be impaired. All of this will mean less revenue generated in the forward auction, which, in turn, will reduce the amount of spectrum the Commission is able to clear, and ultimately, the chances of holding a successful incentive auction."

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.