I was struck by a recent article in this magazine that related the difficulty of reallocating vacant TV spectrum. It was pointed out how the broadcasters had to “relinquish some of their UHF spectrum — channels 52 through 69 — for wireless services.”
This statement bothered me for several reasons. First, it isn’t “their” spectrum. While the spectrum previously was assigned for TV services, no individual or identifiable group “owned” this spectrum. Rather, it is made available to applicants based on certain technical and eligibility rules. Second, the spectrum wasn’t useable for TV service anyway. Spectrum couldn’t be used because of the old UHF taboos, which were being addressed by the switch to digital. In short, no licensee lost an authorization, and no community that had a need for more TV service (and could technologically have it) was deprived. Finally, we probably did the existing broadcasters a favor. Do broadcasters really want more competition in this media environment? No.
Future reallocation of spectrum designated for broadcast TV use — or additional shared use of channels — should be along exactly the same lines. No broadcaster should lose an authorization and no broadcaster should suffer interference. To paraphrase the standard TV disclaimer, “no broadcaster was harmed in the reallocation of this spectrum.”
Is it worth looking for more opportunities of this sort? Absolutely. Now that we have completed the transition, know the lay of the spectrum land, and know how digital TV systems will operate outside the lab, it is a great time for that review.
Let’s assume that more can be done with TV white spaces. To what services should that spectrum be dedicated? The cry from cellular service providers — and studies performed on their behalf lately — demonstrate that they intend to be first in line.
What is fascinating about the need for more consumer mobile spectrum is the reason why more is needed. Cellular spectrum is being gobbled up by spectrum-hogging mobile video. The shift from broadcast TV to TV over cellular (and cable) is fueling this need while simulatenously reducing the need for more broadcast TV options.
In the meantime, land-mobile radio users have problems of their own that must be addressed with more spectrum. Public safety’s need to get the 700 MHz band cranking, upgrades to P25, utility smart-grid initiatives, the railroad sector’s Positive Train Control initiative, and land-mobile commercial providers wanting to deliver advanced services beyond push-to-talk all are competing for spectrum. At the same time, rebanding and narrowbanding are taking away precious resources.
All of this promises to make 2010 a memorable and busy year. And, in its typical fashion, the FCC has left you a holiday present — its public notice clarifying some of the narrowbanding rules. As expected, the commission said there will be no secondary operation permitted if you fail to narrowband.
Hopefully the FCC quickly will address concerns over manufacturers’ deadline of 2011 for new equipment. In doing so, one question must be answered: What changed circumstance now exists that prevents manufacturers from creating equipment with both 12.5 kHz and 6.25 kHz (or equivalent) modes that didn’t exist before? That should be the starting point for any commission action.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at email@example.com.