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New allocation scheme set for channels 52-59

In December, the Commission adopted new allocation and service rules for the spectrum now occupied by TV channels 52-59 (the lower 700 MHz band). In its Report and Order, the Commission reallocated the entire 48 MHz to fixed and mobile services, although it retained the existing broadcast allocation for incumbent broadcast services during the DTV transition, and for theoretically possible new broadcast services. Congress is forcing the Commission to auction off that particular spectrum by Sept. 30, 2002, for use in the fixed and mobile services.

Despite those impending auctions, the Commission recognizes that the transition to DTV is not scheduled to end until at least the end of 2006, and that date may well slip in a number of markets. Obviously, this time differential creates a need to accommodate existing broadcasters in the spectrum.

Accordingly, the Report and Order established technical criteria designed to protect incumbent TV operations in the band through the DTV transition period. Further, the Commission did not adopt any band-clearing rules for channels 52 through 59. The Commission recognizes that the 52-59 band has approximately twice as many incumbents operating as the upper 700 MHz band (channels 60-69), a consideration which made band clearing in the lower 700 MHz band far more problematic. Any voluntary band-clearing arrangements will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they would serve the public interest.

While ongoing full-service television operation will be protected only through the DTV transition, LPTV and TV translator stations will be allowed to operate in the channel 52-59 band on a secondary basis (as is the case now), even after the DTV transition. This provision may be of limited use, however, depending upon the outcome of the spectrum auctions and the types of services that are initiated in the band. Since LPTV and TV translators will remain secondary services, they will be required to change channels or cease operations should they cause interference to whatever new services are established in the band. Nonetheless, depending upon how the roll out of new services takes place, the provision may provide some benefit to LPTV and TV translator stations by allowing them to remain on their current channels until the DTV transition is over. At that point, presumably more channels will be available for use as displacement channels, as TV stations are required to return one of their paired channels at the end of transition.

The Commission dismissed all pending petitions for rulemaking for new NTSC allotments in the channel 52-59 band. For pending applications for construction permits, a 45-day window will be opened to allow applicants to modify their applications to specify either analog or digital service within the core spectrum (channels 2-51) or digital service only in channels 52-58. No new service will be allowed on Channel 59.

As for the future uses of the lower 700 MHz band, the Commission has divided the spectrum into three 12 MHz blocks, with each block consisting of a pair of 6 MHz segments, and two 6 MHz blocks of contiguous, unpaired spectrum. The Commission will license two of the three 12 MHz blocks and the two 6 MHz blocks on a regional basis using six Economic Area Groupings. The remaining 12 MHz block of paired spectrum will be licensed using Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) and Rural Statistical Areas (RSA).

All operations in the lower 700 MHz band will be regulated under the framework of the Commission's Part 27 technical, licensing and operational rules. The Part 27 power levels have been amended, however, to permit 50 kW effective radiated power transmissions in the lower 700 MHz band, subject to specific requirements for notification and non-interference.

Harry C. Martin is an attorney with Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, Arlington, VA.

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No biennial ownership reports are due in 2002. Quarterly problems and programs lists for the first quarter of 2002 must be placed in stations' public files by April 10.

March 1 is the deadline to file FCC Forms 337 seeking extensions of the May 1, 2002, DTV construction deadline for commercial TV stations.