Senate Democrats Join Duplex Gap Pushback

The pressure on the FCC from Democrats on the Hill who don't want it to put TV stations in the duplex gap continued to mount Tuesday, two days before the FCC is scheduled to vote on a proposal to do just that.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a quintet of powerful senators urged "extreme caution" if the FCC is planning to put full-power stations in the duplex gap, the buffer between wireless uplink and downlink spectrum where the FCC is planning to put unlicensed wireless devices including microphones used for TV station newsgathering, as well as sports events like the Super Bowl and theatrical productions.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote the chairman that almost every stakeholder involved—broadcasters, public interest groups, wireless companies—are concerned about placing the TV stations in the gap (which also means in the wireless portion of the spectrum band).

"This proposal would deny millions of Americans the innovative promise of unlicensed spectrum and the economic benefit it brings," they said flatly. "Furthermore, it would inhibit live news coverage and emergency communications by leaving local broadcasters in some markets with no reserved spectrum for the wireless microphones that are essential to cover breaking news," they said.

The letter followed one from a trio of House Democrats last week saying virtually the same thing.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal Aug. 6, although it has already delayed the vote once—from July 16—after the duplex gap critics began making a lot of noise.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler proposed putting a handful of stations in the duplex gap to help the FCC free up as much contiguous wireless spectrum as possible. The senators agree with that goal, but not at the expense of wireless mics.

They said the FCC "must ensure adequate spectrum is available for unlicensed use on a contiguous nation-wide basis, and that local broadcasters can continue to report the news and serve their local communities without undue disruption.”

There is an alternative proposal before the FCC that would have it reserve a second channel in those duplex gap markets, which would free up an additional 6 MHz that could go toward a TV signal or wireless mic or other unlicensed device.

If the chairman wanted to entertain that alternative, he would likely have to put it out for comment.

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.