It's Official: FCC Okays Dish, H Block Items

As expected, the FCC officially voted Tuesday to reallocate 40 MHz of satellite spectrum--owned by Dish--for terrestrial broadband, and to approve a proposal of the adjacent H Block of spectrum (10 MHz) for auction in 2013, presumably for terrestrial broadband as well.

The vote was 5-0. Multichannel News reported earlier in the day that a majority had voted to approve both items, which only left the question of whether the other commissioner would vote it by day's end, as expected, or it would be pushed to Wednesday, when the vote had been scheduled for the public meeting.

"Today the Commission took two actions significantly advancing the President’s goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for broadband by 2020," said FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun in a statement. "These actions will help meet skyrocketing consumer demand and promote private investment, innovation, and competition, while unlocking billions of dollars of value."

According to sources, the item requires Dish to use some of its spectrum as an interference buffer for the H Block, which Dish chairman Charlie Ergen has said will adversely impact Dish's plans for a competitive wireless service. Ergen made a personal pitch to that effect in meetings with FCC commissioners and staffers, including offering to accept the so-called guard band if the FCC would loosen restrictions on the rest of the spectrum, but sources say that did not fly.

But Dish still applauded the step as being in the right direction.

“The FCC has removed outdated regulations and granted terrestrial flexibility for most of the AWS-4 band. We appreciate the hard work and focus of the FCC and its staff throughout this process," said Jeff Blum, Dish SVP and deputy general counsel. "The Commission has taken an important step toward facilitating wireless competition and innovation, and fulfilling the goals of the National Broadband Plan. Following a more thorough review of the order and its technical details, Dish ill consider its strategic options and the optimal approach to put this spectrum to use for the benefit of consumers.”

Those could include creating the new service, partnering with someone--like Sprint--or eventually selling the now-more-valuable spectrum.

Dish had initially sought an FCC waiver to use its AWS-4 spectrum, which it purchased out of bankruptcy from TerreStar and DBSD, for a hybrid terrestrial-satellite broadcast service, but the FCC put that on hold while it prepared the item loosening the satellite-only restrictions on the entire band, which means the looser rules would convey to a new licensee going forward, not just apply to Dish.

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.