As the nation’s television stations move closer and closer to the February 17, 2009 termination of analog broadcasting, plans are well underway to re-use the channel that these stations must surrender after that date. Currently, most television stations operate on two channels, their traditional analog channel, and a transition channel on which they have been allowed to transmit their digital signal until the end of the digital transition. As we wrote here, the FCC has assigned to all stations a final channel on which they will operate once the transition is complete (usually the transition channel or the original analog channel). After February 17, 2009, the television stations will only broadcast on their final digital channel, and their other channel will be returned to the FCC. All television operations will be consolidated in Channels 2 through 51, allowing the re-use of Channels 52-69. Some of those returned channels have already been auctioned off (see our post here about some of the operations on those channels), and the FCC has recently announced auction rules for the remaining channels. Our firm has just issued an Advisory setting out the important dates for participation in that auction – the so-called 700 MHz auction. That advisory is available, here.
As these channels have excellent propagation characteristics, it is believed that they will be highly sought, with some estimates that the nationwide channels may bring several billion dollars into the Federal treasury. Rumored uses include various forms of broadband access, either through open systems where consumers will pay for access as they do for any Internet access, but content providers will not have to pay, to more closed systems where the licensees determine what content will be provided. As set out in the Advisory, at least some degree of openness to new devices that connect to the network is guaranteed on some portion of this spectrum under the Commission’s orders. But ultimately how much of that spectrum is used for closed systems transmitting video or audio entertainment (sounds like broadcasting) remains to be seen. The more things change….