FCC rules on flexibility for broadcasters to clear 700MHz band
The FCC has affirmed its rules and granted certain additional flexibility to facilitate voluntary clearing of incumbent broadcasters in the 746MHz to 806MHz spectrum, which the commission refers to as the “Upper 700MHz band,” including UHF TV channels 60 to 69. The decision was made on Sept. 7 and was released on Sept. 17.
Speaking for Access Spectrum, a 700MHz guard band manager with a stake in broadcast station relocation, the company’s president, Mark Crosby, said: “I didn’t jump up and down with joy when I saw the decision, but I thought, ‘Good, they have some of these issues behind them.’ Matters had been left undone, and petitions for reconsideration had been pending. The commercial wireless auction had been postponed indefinitely. That created uncertainty. So it helps when the FCC reaches a decision. This decision didn’t hurt us, and it may help us. Anything that sets the ground rules on how the broadcast relocation and transition will be facilitated is helpful to us.”
The point of the FCC decision was to facilitate the auctioning of 30MHz of the spectrum for commercial wireless, mostly wireless telephone and third-generation, or 3G, cellular communications. But public safety, commercial and private radio communications also may benefit from the incentive offered to broadcasters.
“This action builds on previous decisions made pursuant to Congress’s mandate that the Upper 700MHz band be allocated for future use by commercial and public safety wireless licensees,” a statement issued by the commission reads.
An official in the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau explained that each TV station encumbered not only its assigned 6MHz-wide channel, but also the adjacent channels, for a total of 18MHz. A station on channel 62, for example, encumbers channels 61 and 63, with 63 being among the channels assigned for public safety. A policy that facilitates relocating the station from channel 62 clears two channels (61 and 62) for auctioning and clears 6MHz of spectrum (channel 63) for public safety communications.
TV broadcast stations on channels 60 to 69 currently occupy the Upper 700MHz band and may continue to operate on these frequencies until at least Dec. 31, 2006. Meanwhile, Congress has directed the FCC to auction commercial spectrum in the band prior to the time that broadcasters are required to vacate. To encourage broadcast stations to vacate as sooner rather than later, the FCC has modified its policies to facilitate voluntary band-clearing arrangements between incumbent broadcasters and new commercial wireless interests.
In issuing a ruling on Sept. 17, the commission addressed petitions for reconsideration filed in response to its Third Report and Order in the Upper 700MHz reallocation proceeding. The agency generally affirmed its earlier decisions that are intended to accommodate voluntary band-clearing agreements among incumbent broadcasters and new commercial wireless interests. The FCC also made adjustments to certain digital TV-related rules and policies for broadcasters participating in band-clearing agreements.
In particular, the commission decided to allow a broadcaster that gives up its Upper 700MHz channel the flexibility to continue to operate in analog mode and convert to DTV at any time up until Dec. 31, 2005. The agency also would allow the broadcaster to seek a further extension of the DTV construction deadline if less than 70% of the TV households in its market are capable of receiving DTV signals. The FCC also granted such broadcasters limited relief from DTV policies regarding interference protection of non-replicated service areas and established a 90-day processing timeline for modification applications filed in connection with band-clearing arrangements. Finally, the FCC rejected arguments from the Association of Maximum Service Telecasters seeking to reverse its interference protection policies in connection with band-clearing arrangements.
“This decision is intended to promote greater regulatory certainty to facilitate market-based, voluntary band-clearing arrangements between incumbent broadcasters and new wireless interests,” the FCC statement reads.
Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy, Michael Copps, Kevin Martin and Gloria Tristani (on her last day with the FCC) had more to say and issued separate statements.
A statement from Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy said that “these transactions”—payments made by wireless communications companies to broadcast licensees to vacate Upper 700MHz channels—“will speed up the inevitable [broadcaster] relocation from this band while providing additional resources for the DTV transition…. Private band-clearing arrangements will also provide the resources for these stations to make the digital transition more smoothly. The DTV transition is an expensive proposition. For some stations in this band, the funds made available through voluntary band clearing may make the difference between going digital and going dark.”
The commissioner said that spectrum clearing will speed fulfillment of the congressional mandate to provide for additional public safety spectrum for enhanced voice and data communications as well as interoperability channels that will greatly enhance the ability of multiple public safety entities to communicate with one another, particularly in emergencies.
“The fine work of the Public Safety National Coordination Committee has aided the commission in adopting the appropriate regulatory approach to this vital public safety resource. The sooner the band is cleared, the sooner these services can be deployed. In addition, guard band licensees have already purchased spectrum in these bands and also await band clearing to launch their operations. Finally, the Commission will auction off 30 MHz of commercial wireless spectrum for potential use for wireless advanced services, such as third generation wireless systems. All of these applications await clearing of the band,” Abernathy’s statement reads.
Statements from the other three commissioners were not immediately available.