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FCC Says Noncommercial, Commercial TV Stations Can Share Channel

Local noncommercial educational television stations would share TV channels with commercial stations under a plan to make portions of the UHF and VHF frequency bands available for new uses

The U.S. government is proceeding with a plan to make portions of the UHF and VHF frequency bands used by television broadcasters available for new uses and the plan would have local noncommercial educational television stations share TV channels with commercial stations.

On May 23, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission posted a final rule on the Federal Register—Innovation in the Broadcast Television Bands: Allocations, Channel Sharing and Improvements to VHF, Report and Order—which says “this item sets out a framework by which two or more television licensees may share a single six MHz channel in connection with an incentive auction.”

The FCC’s channel sharing plan is part of a “Report and Order,” FCC 12-45, that was adopted and issued on April 27, 2012. The authority for the FCC’s Report and Order on channel sharing is from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96). Title VI of the act covers “the governance of public safety spectrum.”

The FCC says the channel sharing plan “serves to further address the nation’s growing demand for wireless broadband services, promote the ongoing innovation and investment in mobile communications and ensure that the United States keeps pace with the global wireless revolution.”

In addition, the channel sharing “approach” will help “preserve broadcast television as a healthy, viable medium,” the FCC says. Channel sharing would be consistent with the general proposal set forth in the National Broadband Plan to repurpose spectrum from the UHF and VHF frequency bands for new wireless broadband uses through, in part, voluntary contributions of spectrum to an incentive auction, the commission says.

The FCC’s Report and Order adopted general channel sharing rules and policies, which includes that only licensees would be permitted to participate in channel sharing in conjunction with the reverse auction. The FCC estimates the number of licensed noncommercial educational television stations to be 393, and because those stations are non-profit they are considered to be small entities, the notice says.

The burden on small entities created by limiting channel sharing to only licensees is outweighed by the need to clear as many television channels as possible for reallocation and use by commercial wireless entities to enhance broadband wireless offerings, the FCC says. Therefore, the commission determined that commercial and noncommercial educational television stations “could share a single television channel,” and there would not be “a significant impact on small entities by this decision.”

The final rule becomes effective June 22, 2012.