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Proposal Allows TV Stations to Auction Part of their Broadcast Spectrums

The FCC plan seeks to reallocate up to 120 megahertz from the broadcast television bands.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) allowing television stations to agree to auction off part of their broadcast spectrum to wireless broadband providers has been issued by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The NPRM—Innovation in the Broadcast Television Bands: Allocations, Channel Sharing and Improvements to VHF—was issued by the FCC on Nov. 30 and it seeks “to enable the repurposing of a portion of the UHF and VHF frequency bands that are currently used by the broadcast television service.” The FCC wants to make those frequency bands “available for flexible use by fixed and mobile wireless communications services, including mobile broadband.”

The NPRM “is the first in a series of actions that will allow us to make progress toward our goal of improving efficient use of the bands and enable ongoing innovation and investment through flexible use,” the FCC says.

The FCC plan seeks to reallocate up to 120 megahertz from the broadcast television bands for new wireless broadband uses “through, in part, voluntary contributions of spectrum to an incentive auction.” The specific bands under consideration are the low VHF spectrum at 54 to 72 megahertz (MHz) (television channels 2-4) and 76 to 88 MHz (television channels 5-6); the high VHF spectrum at 174 to 216 MHz (television channels 7-13), and the UHF bands at 470 to 608 MHz (television channels 14-36) and 614 to 698 MHz (TV channels 38-51).

The FCC says its plan for the broadcast spectrum—known as the “U/V bands”—will add new allocations for fixed and mobile services which will provide the maximum flexibility for planning efforts to increase spectrum available for flexible use, including the possibility of assigning portions of the U/V Bands for new mobile broadband services in the future.

In addition, the FCC says the plan allows for the establishment of “a framework that, for the first time, permits two or more television stations to share a single six-megahertz channel, thereby fostering efficient use of the U/V Bands.” The FCC also says it will “consider approaches to improve service for television viewers and create additional value for broadcasters by increasing the utility of the VHF bands for the operation of television services.”

The NPRM “is the first in a series of actions” that will allow the FCC to make progress toward its “goal of improving efficient use of the bands and enable ongoing innovation and investment through flexible use,” the commission says. To achieve that goal, the commission intends to propose further actions for the U/V Bands, including, but not limited to, the process of voluntarily returning broadcast licenses to the commission and the licensing process and service rules for new fixed and mobile wireless communications services. As part of that process, the FCC says it will address the NPRM’s proposal for channel re-packing, the band plan for recovered spectrum and other related issues and will provide full opportunity for public comment on those issues.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski compares “the steady stream of broadcast DTV transmissions” to “trains with a fixed number of boxcars delivering digital content, but many of the boxcars are empty.” That spectrum “is too valuable,” and the United State’s need for broadcast spectrum “too great for it to be used inefficiently; especially given that less than 10 percent of Americans receive broadcast television only through over-the-air spectrum signals,” Genachowski says in a written statement. “The transition to digital made it possible to transmit over-the-air broadcast programming using less spectrum than before,” he added.

“While some stations are seizing the opportunity to offer multicast streams or mobile TV that serve the public interest, others are not,” Genachowski said. Therefore, the NPRM “proposes rules for voluntary channel sharing, increased flexibility of allocations, and seeks comment on improving VHF reception,” and lays the “groundwork for incentive auctions in the broadcast TV band,” he says.