The Digital Television conversion has allowed the FCC to reclaim significant portions of the TV spectrum for wireless and public safety uses – television channels above 51 will no longer be used for broadcast TV at the end of the analog to digital transition. But, as part of the FCC’s Diversity proceeding (see our post here), a proposal dealing with the other end of the TV spectrum is being considered – whether to remove Channels 5 and 6 from the television band and instead use these channels for FM radio. These channels are adjacent to the lower end of the FM band. Because of this adjacency, the existence of TV Channel 6 in a market can limit the use of the lowest end of the FM band (used for Noncommercial Educational stations) to avoid interference to the TV station. Similarly, Channel 6’s audio can be heard on many FM radio receivers, a fact that has recently been used by some LPTV operators to use their stations to deliver an audio service that can be received by FM radios (see our post on this subject). In comments filed in the Diversity proceeding, parties have taken positions all across the spectrum – from television operators who have opposed using the channel for anything but television, to those suggesting that the channels be entirely cleared of television users and turned into a digital radio service. Proposals also suggest using the band for LPFM operations, and even for clearing the AM band by assigning AM operators to this band to commence new digital operations.
In comments that our firm submitted on behalf of a group of noncommercial FM radio licensees who also rebroadcast their signals on a number of FM translator stations, we suggested that Channel 6 could provide a home for LPFM operations, instead of trying to squeeze those stations into the existing FM band. There are currently proposals to squeeze more LPFM stations into the FM band by supplanting some FM translators (see our summary of some of those proposals here). In these comments in the Diversity proceeding, we pointed out that, as there are currently radios on the market that receive 87.9, 87.7 and even 87.5, using these three channels for LPFM service would provide an immediate home to these stations, and far more opportunity for than LPFM would have in the already congested FM band. These opportunities would exist even in most of the largest radio markets in the country, except in the handful of markets where a Channel 6 television station will continue to operate after the digital transition. By adopting this proposal, the service that would be provided by FM translators would not be threatened.
Another set of comments submitted by a group which includes a number of consulting engineers went even further, suggesting that all of Channels 5 and 6 be turned over to a radio service, that the service be operated in a digital mode, and that AM stations and LPFMs all be moved to these new channels. The proposal is quite detailed, submitting a table of allotments for the relocation of the AM stations. The proposal also sets out alternative channels for all current full-power television stations on Channels 5 and 6 where they could be moved to clear these two channels for radio operations.
On the other hand, a number of groups have opposed use of these channels for radio. The opposition includes those stations who already are operating their digital stations on these channels, and organizations including the NAB and MSTV who represent broadcast television stations. These groups argue that these two channels need to be retained as television channels not only for use by the television stations that have digital operations there, but also for new stations that can be allotted after the end of the digital transition, as well as for LPTV stations that are already operating there and ones that could be built in the future.
Thus, the Commission will be faced with a choice between using these channels for more radio or more television. So far, no party has argued that there is no need for this additional service given the multiple services that each TV and FM radio station can provide when operating digitally, nor have questions been raised as to what the addition of new channels (either radio or TV) will do for revenues of existing stations already facing unprecedented competition from other forms of new media. Of course, the competition will come digitally in any event through other means of wireless delivery, so more competition is inevitable whether or not these channels are used for new broadcast services. The use of these channels for more broadcasting will only hasten the inevitable increase in competition that broadcasters will face. At the same time, the addition of all these channels will show, once again, that the incredible competition that exists to broadcasters and demonstrate that government regulation is not necessary to ensure that local service will be provided as, if the marketplace demands it, it will be provided (see our post here).
Reply Comments on these important issues are due on August 29.