Congress finally has given to the FCC authority to conduct spectrum auctions to reclaim parts of the TV spectrum for wireless users, and most DC-based industry associations, including the NAB, have reacted favorably. For a process that was so controversial, this seems like a very favorable result. Television stations, in particular, will have much relief from concerns about the forced-reallocation of their operations to less favorable spectrum. While most trade press reports have reported on these statements and the very general outlines of the legislation, few have looked closely at the provisions that apply to the broadcaster auctions. Just what do they provide?

The auction provisions were adopted as part of the legislation that just extended the Social Security payroll tax deduction rollbacks, extended unemployment benefits, and fixed certain limitations that had arisen on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. All these benefits needed offsetting revenues to avoid unduly increasing the Federal deficit, and the one seemingly easy place to “find” money, was through spectrum auctions. So Congress ordered the President to identify certain Federal spectrum that could be made available for wireless users, and also authorized the FCC to conduct auctions of broadcast spectrum, but under the very specific guidelines set out below.


Continue Reading Congress Authorizes FCC Incentive Auctions to Clear Part of Broadcast TV Spectrum for Wireless Broadband Users – The Details of the Legislation

The debate over repurposing some of the television spectrum for wireless broadband have been raging over the normally quiet Washington summer, as issues as diverse as the budget negotiations, the tenth anniversary of 9-11 and international treaties all play their part in the discussions.  Whatever changes are made could have a profound impact on TV broadcasters nationwide, not just those in the congested metropolitan markets where everyone acknowledges that any spectrum crunch that may exist would be most acute.  This week, Congressman John Dingell, long one of the most influential Congressmen on telecommunications issues, complained that the FCC was deliberately withholding details of its plans for spectrum allocation – plans that the National Association of Broadcasters have challenged as unworkable as they would doom over-the-air television in many markets, especially those near the Canadian border.  With all the issues swirling around the spectrum reallocation debate, the realistic timing of any reallocation of the spectrum and the real impact on the free over-the-air television broadcast industry are becoming major issues being considered in Washington.

The FCC has been pursuing the idea of repurposing some of the television spectrum for wireless broadband use since well before the Broadband Report was issued last year.  As we summarized in our review of the Broadband Report, the FCC suggested that as much as 120 MHz of television spectrum could be reallocated from TV to wireless broadband uses.  The FCC and the consumer electronics and wireless industries have contended that there is a looming spectrum crunch, particularly in major markets, as smart phones, tablets and other connected devices become a bigger part of the lives of many consumers in serving not only their entertainment needs, but also providing information and business services.  The FCC’s Broadband Report thought that as much as 500 MHz of spectrum would eventually be needed, and that 120 MHz could come from the television spectrum, which proponents feel has been underutilized by broadcasters since the digital television transition in 2009.  Proponents of the reallocation contend most consumers get their TV service not over the air, but from cable or satellite providers, so the need for spectrum dedicated to broadcast television is far less than it was 70 years ago when the television service was first popularized.  Broadcasters, of course disagree with that assessment, contending that the digital transition is still very new, and that uses of the digital spectrum – including a mobile DTV service and multicast channels – are just developing.  Moreover, TV broadcasters have argued that their digital offerings, when combined with Internet service, are providing an option to many to "cut the cord" from pay TV options, leading to more over-the-air viewing.  In recent weeks, as detailed below, the National Association of Broadcasters has also been contending that the proposed reallocation would irreparably damage the over-the-air television industry, especially in markets in the Northeast and near the Canadian border where, in some markets, the reallocation would be impossible without ending most or all over-the-air television service.  The radically different pictures painted by the participants in this debate have led to some of the recent charges that the FCC is being less than forthcoming about the manner in which this transition would occur and the impact that it would have on broadcast TV. 


Continue Reading The Debate Continues Over Using TV Spectrum for Wireless Broadband – Incentive Auctions, International Considerations, Deficit Reduction, and Public Safety All Play a Role

The FCC today started an examination of the future of the spectrum currently used by broadcast television, beginning the formal process of implementing the ideas raised in its Broadband Plan of repurposing some of that spectrum for use by wireless broadband technologies. Specifically, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking comment on a number of issues. While the full text of the FCC’s order has not been released, many of the issues for consideration can be gleaned from the comments made at the FCC meeting. In the initial presentation made about the NPRM, it was stated that the principal issues to be addressed in the NPRM were:

  • Allowing new primary allocations in the television spectrum for fixed and mobile wireless users.
  • Providing a framework that would allow two or more broadcast television stations to share a single 6 MHz channel, retaining full must-carry rights for each station, while allowing for the return of spectrum to the FCC to be auctioned for wireless uses
  • Looking at ways to increase the value of VHF television channels (channels 2 through 13) for DTV use, including proposals to allow stations operating on such channels to operate at higher power and to increase performance standards for indoor antennas

Co-primary uses could be important for many TV users, as currently LPTV and TV translator stations are secondary services, implying that such services might be preempted by new primary wireless users.  The enhancement of the VHF spectrum would be important to any attempt to dedicate significant spectrum to wireless broadband without substantial disruption to over-the-air television, as without the use of those channels (which are underutilized, particularly in urban markets, as they have proved to be very susceptible to interference and do not provide as broad coverage as VHF analog service did), the ability to repack the TV spectrum to clear portions of the spectrum for wireless would be very restricted in the major metropolitan areas where any spectrum crunch is likely to be most acute. 

As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated, this was an efficient presentation on an important issue. The explanation of the proposals took far less time than each of the Commissioner’s individual statements, all of which raised important issues that will be addressed in this proceeding.   The FCC public notice about this proceeding is available by clicking here.  But an examination of each of the Commissioner’s statements (which are available through the links on their names, below) is important to understand the scope of the issues to be addressed by the FCC. 


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Looking to Reallocate Some TV Spectrum to Wireless Broadband

While it’s summer in Washington and things should slow down, the discussion of the need for wireless spectrum for broadband, and the related question of whether to reclaim television spectrum for that use, continues unabated.  This week, the FCC released a new report finding that between 14 and 24 million Americans have no access to broadband, and finding that a disproportionate number of those people are in rural areas.  While this report to Congress is meant as a factual report on the status of broadband deployment, and not a document that details solutions to the lack of access, both the statement about the report from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the FCC Press Release summarizing the report, suggest that one way to address this shortcoming is to encourage the deployment of wireless broadband.

While the FCC did not, in these documents specifically mention the TV spectrum as a source for that wireless capacity, as we have written before, the FCC’s Broadband Plan looks to the television spectrum for the majority of the spectrum that they hope to reclaim for broadband use.   Joining the FCC’s call for more spectrum was an even higher power.  The White House recently issued a Presidential Memorandum supporting the idea that the FCC free up 500 mhz of spectrum for wireless broadband purposes.  While the Memorandum tasked government agencies with finding ways to free spectrum that they are using to meet this perceived need, it also made clear that the government would look to meet part of the need by reclaiming spectrum from non-governmental users.  And they are not the only ones getting into the Act. 


Continue Reading FCC Wants More Wireless Broadband from TV Spectrum – Congress and the White House Get In on the Action

The FCC today released its National Broadband Plan to Congress, and in it spelled out its suggestions for the future of television. Facilitating the deployment of ubiquitous, dependable wireless broadband service is identified as a fundamental goal of the Commission’s proposals. The authors of the Commission’s report have viewed the problems experienced by some wireless broadband providers in major markets as indicative of a coming shortage in wireless capacity. Specifically, the Commission is concerned that as more and more applications for wireless broadband are deployed, the capacity of existing wireless spectrum will be exhausted, foreclosing opportunities presented by wireless broadband. And, as detailed below, the Commission sees the television spectrum as providing a significant part of the answer to that perceived spectrum shortfall.

The opportunities for broadband are many, in the view of the authors of the study. The Commission sees growing demand and future applications for wireless broadband not just in the areas of entertainment and commercial applications, but also in education, health, energy conservation, civic involvement, and public safety, among others. However, the Commission fears that sufficient spectrum will not be available to meet all of these needs.


Continue Reading FCC National Broadband Plan – What It Suggests for TV Broadcasters Spectrum

A year after the FCC issued its order adopting the "White Spaces" proposals (about which we wrote here and here), to allow wireless devices to operate in unused portions of the television band on a non-interference basis, the FCC took its first steps toward actual implementation of that order by issuing a request for Proposals from entities wishing to be considered for the position of Database Manager.  This Database Manager will play a very important role in the implementation of the White Spaces order, as it will identify all of the current operators in the TV band that the new wireless devices will have to protect while operating in a given region.  In its White Spaces order, the FCC concluded that not all of these devices could, on their own, adequately sense where there were TV stations or other spectrum users that needed to be protected.  Thus, the White Spaces devices need to be able to communicate with the database to be maintained by the Manager, to make sure that they are operating on clear portions of the television spectrum.  White Spaces devices need to protect not only full power TV stations, but also Low Power TV stations and TV translators, as well as the path between a full-power TV station and any translator that rebroadcasts that stationCable system headends which pick up TV signals must also be protected, as well as land mobile users who use portions of the TV band.  Certain regular users of wireless microphones also need to be protected – so the database will need to be very detailed to give the White Spaces devices access to information about all of these existing users who must be protected.

In its Request for Proposal, the FCC has asked that proposed Database Managers provide extensive information by the January 4, 2010 filing deadline.  Information requested includes the following:

1. The entity must demonstrate that it possesses sufficient technical expertise to administer a TV band database. It must demonstrate that it has a viable business plan to operate a database for the five-year term the rules. To the extent that the proponent will rely on fees from registrations or queries, the proposal should describe the fee collection process.

2. The entity must describe in detail the scope of the database functions that it intends to perform, such as managing a data repository, performing calculations to determine available channels, and/or registering fixed unlicensed devices and licensed services not listed in the Commission’s databases, or how it will have functions performed in a secure and reliable manner by another entity. The entity must also describe how data will be synchronized between multiple databases if multiple databases are authorized and how quickly this synchronization of data will be accomplished.

3. The entity must provide diagrams showing the architecture of the database system and a detailed description of how each function operates and how each function interacts with the other functions.

4. If the entity will not be performing all database functions, it must provide information on the entities operating other functions and the business relationship between itself and these other entities. In particular, it must address how the Commission can ensure that all of the requirements for TV band database administrators in the rules are satisfied when database functions are divided among multiple entities, including a description of how data will be transferred among these various related entities and other databases if multiple databases are authorized and the expected schedule of such data transfers (e.g. real-time, once an hour, etc.)

5.  The entity must describe the methods that will be used by TV band devices to communicate with the database and the procedures, if any, that it plans to use to verify that a device can properly communicate with the database. It must include a description of the security methods that will be used to ensure that unauthorized parties can not access or alter the database or otherwise corrupt the operation of the database system in performing its intended functions. In addition, the entity should describe whether and how security methods will be used to verify that Mode I personal/portable devices that rely on another device for their geographic location information have received equipment authorization, interfaces, protocols) that will be used by TV band devices to communicate with the database and the procedures, if any, that it plans to use to verify that a device can properly communicate with the database. It must include a description of the security methods that will be used to ensure that unauthorized parties can not access or alter the database or otherwise corrupt the operation of the database system in performing its intended functions. In addition, the entity should describe whether and how security methods will be used to verify that Mode I personal/portable devices that rely on another device for their geographic location information have received equipment authorization.


Continue Reading FCC Starts Next Step of TV White Spaces Deployment – Issues RFP for Database Manager to Track Interference Concerns

Two weeks ago, we wrote about the FCC’s proposal for the auction of the 700 MHz band – the portions of the spectrum that will be reclaimed from television operators after the digital transition.  These channels will be used to provide some form of wireless broadband service. The Commission made its decision on the use of this spectrum last week, reserving at least some of the spectrum for “open access” uses – where the provider will not be able to restrict the devices that can access the network, nor limit or block services that run on the network, as long as the devices and services do not cause damage to the network.  In theory, this will encourage the creation of numerous new devices and services to capitalize on the open wireless network being provided.  While the Commission has not released the full test of this decision yet, a memo from our firm, describing some of the decisions announced at the FCC open meeting and in the subsequent public notice, can be found here.

Whether the provisions that the Commission adopted will be sufficient to entice some of the Internet “content” companies, like Google, to bid, remains to be seen. But this “beachfront spectrum” will no doubt introduce some exciting new uses as it begins to come into operation in the next few years – providing more people more wireless access to mobile content – and more competition to those traditional wireless industries that many consumers have forgotten are both wireless and mobile – those provided by traditional broadcasters. 


Continue Reading 700 MHz Reclaimed TV Spectrum Auction Rules Adopted – A Preview

There are no items on the agenda for next week’s FCC meeting from the Media Bureau, so one might think that the "broadcast" community could ignore this meeting.  However, there is one matter that will be considered that may well have an effect on the media landscape for the foreseeable future.  That is the adoption of service rules for the 700 MHz spectrum – the remaining portion of the spectrum to be reclaimed from television broadcasters after the digital transition.  Part of that spectrum has already been reclaimed and is beginning to be used by companies such as Qualcomm offering digital multimedia services such as the MediaFLO system, about which we have written before.  The remaining portion of the spectrum that will be auctioned by the Commission by January 2008 and has the potential to provide significant high-speed digital wireless services to the public.   However, anyone reading the communications press would realize that there is a major controversy over how that service will be provided.

The argument is over whether service will be provided on the new spectrum in an open manner – in essence a wireless high speed connection to the Internet where any service can get direct access to the consumer – or whether it will function more like the current systems run by the existing wireless carriers, where the carriers will be able to control the content that will be delivered to the consumer.  This is, by no means an easy decision, and it is currently being debated in Congress and at the FCC.


Continue Reading The 700 Mhz Controversy – Fighting Over the Reclaimed TV Spectrum

The FCC’s agenda for its meeting to be held on Wednesday, April 25, contains four separate items related to the digital television transition.  The issue receiving the most press coverage is the proposal advanced by Chairman Martin that would require the cable carriage of television signals in both analog and digital formats until all cable