reallocation of TV spectrum for wireless broadband

There are more and more signs that the FCC is moving forward aggressively with its “incentive auction” to purchase TV stations so that their licenses can be cancelled and their spectrum sold to and reused by wireless companies for wireless broadband purposes.  In two significant actions this week, the FCC gave broadcasters a first peek at the anticipated value of their stations in an incentive auction, and also clarified the interference standard that will be used by the FCC when they “repack” the stations that do not sell their licenses into a smaller post-auction TV band.  This Declaratory Ruling clarification seems to be addressed to answering some of the questions raised by the NAB in its appeal of the incentive auction order, about which we wrote here (an appeal which has been combined with a separate appeal of the incentive auction order by Sinclair Broadcasting).  But, to most television operators, the more interesting of the two actions is the report issued by the FCC suggesting the values that licensees in the various TV markets might get if they surrender their TV licenses in the incentive auction.

The Report was prepared by an investment banking firm retained by the Commission.  It sets out the procedures for the auction, and how the bidding will work. The report also contains an IRS letter suggesting the tax treatment that would be accorded licensees for incentive auction payments in various scenarios (e.g. a pure surrender of the license, or a surrender of a license as part of a channel sharing agreement, or a decision to move a station from UHF to VHF in exchange for FCC compensation).  But what most broadcasters were most interested in was the chart of projected maximum and median payments to full-power and Class A stations in each of the television markets across the country.  Those projected payments ranged from Los Angeles, where the FCC projected that the maximum that could be paid to a broadcaster for surrendering their license could be as much as $570,000,000, with the median value of a surrendered license being $340,000,000, to much smaller markets where the value, in the smallest television market of Glendive, Montana and in several smaller Alaska markets, where the FCC did not foresee any payments to TV broadcasters for surrendering their licenses.
Continue Reading TV Incentive Auction Moves Forward – FCC Estimates the Value of TV Stations and Clarifies the Interference Standard for Stations Who Remain After the Auction

While the FCC has not yet started a proceeding to set rules for the auction of television spectrum for broadband purposes, the Commission is taking steps to clear the spectrum in other ways.  Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s actions proposing to remove the Class A designation from certain LPTV stations that had

The FCC has released 16 Show Cause Orders threatening to deprive a number of low power television (LPTV) stations of their Class A status for failure to file Children’s Television Programming Reports.  These orders appear to be implementing a long-rumored get-tough policy on Class A TV stations, as the FCC prepares to clear portions of the TV spectrum to auction it for use by wireless broadband providers, in accordance with the authorizing legislation we wrote about last week. Class A stations are protected from interference like full power TV stations, while other LPTV licensees can be displaced from their current channels by new primary users – potentially including future wireless broadband auction winners. Therefore, if these Class A stations are downgraded to LPTV status, the FCC could displace them as needed for spectrum auctions.  If they retain their Class A status, they are protected like full-power TV stations, and the FCC must attempt to replicate their coverage in any repacking of the spectrum that may occur.

These 16 Show Cause Orders all have essentially the same set of facts as this one.  Specifically, all of the stations failed to file multiple Children’s Television Programming Reports and failed to respond to FCC letters cautioning the stations that failure to file these reports could result in loss of Class A status.  As the FCC notes in all of the Show Cause Orders, Class A licensees are required to comply with many full power TV requirements, including the need to maintain a main studio and a public inspection file, to comply with children’s programming requirements, political programming requirements, station identification requirements and Emergency Alert System rules. Failure to comply with any of these requirements could result in loss of Class A status.Continue Reading Failure to File Children’s Programming Reports Could Cause Loss of Class A Status for LPTV Stations

The FCC today froze all applications for TV channel 51 by both applicants for full-power and low power facilities.  Channel 51 is immediately adjacent to the parts of the television bands that were reclaimed for wireless uses during the DTV transition.  Wireless users, including CTIA and the Rural Cellular Association, have sought to restrict use of Channel 51 because of the potential for interference to the wireless users in these new wireless frequencies.  Today’s order not only freezes new applications for Channel 51 by both full-power and low power TV stations (including LPTV, TV translator and Class A TV stations), but it also freezes the processing of pending applications for the channel.  At the same time, the FCC has taken steps to encourage existing users of the channel to vacate it, giving low power applicants 60 days to amend pending applications to specify lower channels.

The freeze on applications is supposedly temporary, while the FCC considers a proposal for a rulemaking to permanently clear Channel 51 of TV users to eliminate the alleged interference to wireless users.  But, given the action here, and the FCC’s other actions to clear portions of the TV spectrum for wireless users, it certainly looks like the FCC is predisposed to adopting the proposal of the wireless users to clear this channel.  The freeze affects proposals not only for new channels on this band, but also applications for increases in the facilities of stations already in the band so as to preserve the "status quo."  The FCC will consider waivers of the freeze, but only to replace existing facilities with new ones where the existing facilities need to be replaced or changed due damage by storm, zoning proceedings, or "unforeseen events."  Any new facilities must keep the station within its current coverage area.  No waivers of this requirement will be issued to low power stations – while full-power stations may be able to exceed their current contours only through a waiver request that demonstrates that some expansion is necessary to preserve existing coverage or the quality of service to the public.Continue Reading FCC Freezes TV and LPTV Applications for Channel 51 – Encourages Users to Vacate the Channel

In another example of how seriously the FCC is considering the reallocation of portions of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband use, the Commission today issued a Public Notice freezing any new petitions for changes in the channels of television stations.  Since the DTV transition, almost 100 stations have changed channels – mostly moving from VHF to UHF channels, as television operators have in determined that VHF channels are subject to more interference and viewer complaints about over-the-air reception.  Many predict that these problems with the remaining VHF stations will be worse when the new mobile DTV devices roll out later this year.  Yet, as the FCC is looking at implementing its plan to recapture portions of the television spectrum for use by wireless broadband, this freeze has now been adopted.  No new Petitions for channel changes will be accepted, though requests already on file will be processed.

The FCC itself has acknowledged the difficulties with the reception of digital DTV signals broadcast on VHF channels, and has asked for public comment on how these difficulties can be overcome, though many engineers seem to feel that, short of repealing the laws of physics, the quest may be an impossible one.  In that same proceeding, the FCC has asked about how it should repack the television spectrum, so that the Commission could provide a contiguous swath of spectrum for broadband users.  These actions are being taken by the FCC even though, so far, there is no legislation authorizing the incentive auctions that would be used to pay some broadcasters to abandon their spectrum.  Without such legislation, the FCC cannot move forward with its plans – thus this freeze may be in place for some time.Continue Reading FCC Freezes Channel Changes By Digital TV Stations While Evaluating Reallocation of Television Spectrum for Broadband Use

The FCC has granted a one week extension for reply comments in the proceeding looking to take many of the preliminary steps toward incentive auctions by which the FCC would reclaim parts of television spectrum for use by wireless broadband companies.  Comments are now due on April 25.  We wrote about the many issues in this

Broadcast engineers are often tasked with much of a station’s regulatory compliance, as well as its planning for the future.  At last week’s Michigan Association of Broadcasters Great Lakes Broadcasting Conference, I did a presentation to the a session of broadcast engineers and others, sponsored by the local chapter of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. We covered the industry’s macro issues of spectrum reallocation for television, and HD Radio for radio, and the possible use of TV Channels 5 and 6 for radio.  We also talked about restrictions on the movement of AM and FM stations based on the FCC’s rural radio proceeding, and the issues between translators and LPFM stations.  Then we talked about many of the day to day issues that can get a station in trouble – particularly with license renewals coming up.  A copy of the slides that I used in the presentation is available here.  Additional information on many of the topics that I discussed last week are also available on our blog, as listed below.

Some of the articles that we have written that would be important to members of the engineering community include the following:

  • The latest on White Spaces, and the development of the database that will be used to protect TV stations, translators, cable headends and other current users of the TV spectrum, an issue that I neglected to address at the conference 
  • A summary of the FCC’s proceeding to determine how incentive auctions would work to clear space in the TV spectrum for wireless broadband, and on making VHF channels more useful for digital television
  • The latest on video description of TV programming can be found here.
  • Information about closed captioning requirements and the new complaint process for issues about such captioning can be found here
  • Our checklist for the commercial broadcaster’s public file can be found here
  • Information on the FCC’s rural radio proceeding can be found here

There are plenty of other articles on the Blog about FCC Fines, LPFM/FM translator issues, Tower issuesEAS and other matters that are important to engineers – and to the stations they work for.Continue Reading FCC Legal Issues for Broadcast Engineers – A Presentation to the Michigan Broadcasters

The FCC’s auction of new VHF TV channels in New Jersey and Delaware (about which we have written many times including here) has resulted in only three qualified bidders.  Despite this lack of interest in these VHF channels, the FCC seems to be looking at VHF as a way to facilitate its announced plans for the clearing of significant portions of the television spectrum for wireless broadband use.  The Commission this week set the comment date – March 18, 2011 – on ways to overcome the issues that have been posed to TV stations that have remained in VHF channels after the digital transition.  In the same proceeding, the FCC also seeks comments on allowing TV stations to share the same 6 MHz channel, with both stations retaining their cable and satellite must-carry rights.  That same proceeding implies that we may well have seen the last new over-the-air television stations.  This crucial proceeding on the future of the television band requires careful attention by all parties who may be affected by the many proposals contained in this relatively compact Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. 

The first part of the FCC’s proposal (about which we previously wrote here), is to look at ways to get some of the television stations to give up their current channel to allow the FCC to use it for broadband, and having that station share another station’s channel to continue to provide its program service on what is the equivalent of a digital subchannel.  The proposal to encourage multiple TV stations to share the same 6 MHz channel raises many issues.  First, the FCC recognizes that the proposal may result in some television stations giving up their ability to broadcast in High Definition (one of the principal reasons for the initial transition to digital), but suggests that stations sharing the same channel could work out "dynamic arrangements" to allow sharing the spectrum flexibly, increasing the portion digital bandwidth allocated to one station when it has programming that would benefit from higher definition, while switching some of the bandwidth allocation to the other station at other times. 

While the Commission assumes that each station will continue to exist as an independent station even when sharing a channel with another station, many of its questions in this proceeding seem to signal uncertainty about this conclusion.  Issues on which the Commission seeks comment include:

  • What effect will channel sharing have on the deployment of HD programming and mobile television?  The Commission does not ask about 3-D television, which some broadcasters have begun to experiment with, and might be worth a comment if there are those who expect that to be part of the television future that could be affected by channel sharing arrangements.
  • In channel sharing, would each station be able to maintain a Standard Definition signal at all times?
  • The Commission assumes that each station sharing a single channel (and thus a single transmission facility) would retain a separate license, and be individually responsible for FCC-rule compliance (e.g. EAS, indecency, children’s television, political broadcasting, etc).  How would responsibility over the technical compliance be apportioned?
  • Should commercial and non-commercial stations be allowed to share the same channel?  Could commercial stations share channels that have, to this point, been reserved for noncommercial educational uses?
  • Will there be a loss in service to the public from such combinations?  Will there be television "white" and "gray" areas created, i.e. areas where there will be no over-the-air television service or only a single service?
  • Should cable and satellite service be included when evaluating questions of loss of service?
  • What impact should channel sharing have on other FCC rules, like the media ownership rules?

Perhaps the biggest issue with channel sharing is the cable and satellite carriage issue, which raised a number of issues for the Commission.  The issues, summarized below, also demonstrate the Commission’s tentativeness in its conclusion that two stations sharing the same channel are really independent stations.Continue Reading While Few Vie for New VHF TV Stations in NJ and Delaware, FCC Sets Comment Date on Improving VHF Digital Reception and TV Channel Sharing With Must Carry Rights As Ways to Help Clear TV Band for Broadband Users