Broadcast-to-Broadband: Relinquishment and Repacking
March 17, 2010
FCC’s 360-page National Broadband Plan, delivered to Congress yesterday, has
sparked an outcry from broadcasters who stand to lose a huge chunk of spectrum.
The plan calls for broadcasters to hand over 120 MHz of the 300 MHz they use to
transmit TV signals--enough for 20 channels in every market.
The imposition comes as TV stations continue to swap out antennas in the wake
of the digital transition. Repacking the TV spectrum for further efficiency
would mean more such reconfigurations, and a likely increase in signal
Repacking would supposedly occur after broadcasters voluntarily hand over their
licenses. David Oxenford of Davis Wright Tremaine LLC in Washington, D.C.
summarizes the FCC’s reasoning:
“Throughout the section of the report dealing with the potential recapture of
TV frequencies, the commission suggests that the television frequencies are
underutilized, and that television broadcasting is not the highest and best use
for the channels. In the view of the commission, this spectrum is not being
used efficiently at the moment, as many television stations have the ability to
transmit their over-the-air signals in less than the full 6 MHz of spectrum
allotted to each television station.
“While high-definition programming and opportunities for multichannel
operations are possible on the current channel allotments, in the commission’s
opinion, too few broadcasters are making full use of the spectrum.”
Throw in 15 percent reliance on over-the-air TV, and the FCC has a weighty argument
that the spectrum would be put to better use for wireless broadband.
“Some stations may sell out entirely, while others could agree to share current
frequencies--e.g. allowing two stations to each use 3 MHz of one 6 MHz TV
channel, allowing the other 6 MHz to be reclaimed by the FCC for broadband
use,” Oxenford wrote in DWT’s Broadcast Law Blog.
Broadcasters giving up spectrum would be compensated from resulting auctions.
“The details of how that auction could work are discussed in the report--suggesting
that an auction by the FCC where a portion of the proceeds are paid to the
broadcaster is the favored method, though a direct sale of spectrum by the
broadcaster to the wireless company is an alternative,” he said. “Once stations
agree to this voluntary plan, the FCC will take the remaining television
stations and repack them into a smaller portion of the television spectrum, to
clear up a large contiguous swath of spectrum for broadband users. Broadcasters
may need to share spectrum or transmitter sites, reduce coverage, or otherwise
modify their technical operations to fit into the more limited allocated
Oxenford provides further details of the FCC’s rationale for moving
broadcasters off the spectrum, including a cost evaluation of the airwaves, at
National Broadband Plan - What It Suggests for TV Broadcasters’ Spectrum.”
Image by Michael Sauers)