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TV auxiliary frequencies disappearing

The FCC has adopted procedures for the forced removal of TV broadcast auxiliaries from the 1990- to 2025MHz band, and it has taken back the new broadcast auxiliary spectrum it allocated at 2110- to 2130MHz. In addition, the FCC has rechannelized the remaining 2025- to 2110MHz band into narrower channels. These will require further development of digital compression techniques and may ultimately only be capable of handling digital transmissions. The FCC has also decided to permit government space research, space operations and Earth-exploration satellite services to share the 2025- to 2110MHz band with broadcast auxiliary facilities on a co-primary basis.

The Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) currently operates throughout the 1990- to 2110MHz band. In 1997, the Commission reallocated the 1990- to 2025MHz portion of the band to the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) for use by mobile phone and wireless services. Congress later mandated that the 2110- to 2130MHz spectrum the FCC had allocated to the broadcast auxiliary service instead be auctioned to new services to balance the federal budget.

Phase I of the forced removal of broadcast auxiliaries from the 1990- to 2025MHz band will make the 1990- to 2008MHz portion of the band available to early MSS operators. Phase II will make the remaining 2008- to 2025MHz portion available when Phase I spectrum is no longer sufficient. Starting this month, new broadcast auxiliary licenses will only be granted in the 2008- to 2110MHz band.

During the next 10 years, MSS operators will be required to pay all costs of moving existing broadcast auxiliaries. After that, any remaining broadcast auxiliaries will have to vacate the band upon six months' notice from an MSS operator, without any compensation. A two-year mandatory negotiation period for MSS operators and broadcast auxiliary licensees in the 1990- to 2008MHz band in the top 30 markets to agree upon relocation costs starts next month. Subsequently, mandatory negotiation periods will commence for smaller markets and the 2008- to 2025MHz portion of the band.

Once Phase II begins, all broadcast auxiliaries in the 2025- to 2110MHz band in markets 31 to 100 must operate on 14.5MHz channels. By the end of Phase II, all broadcast auxiliaries will be operating on even narrower 12.4- or 12.1MHz channels. New techniques for maximizing the available spectrum will be required to use the narrower channels. Experimental operations show that it is possible to carry a signal in a 12MHz channel with digital equipment, but not necessarily with analog equipment.

Relocation from channels 60-69 The auction of TV channels 60 through 69 to a new 700MHz wireless voice and data telecommunications service has been moved from September 2000 to March 2001. The successful bidders will be required to protect incumbent full-power TV broadcasters on channels 59 through 69 from interference until those broadcasters migrate to channels 2 through 51.

A principal concern of the 700MHz parties is that the transition will be delayed past the Dec. 31, 2006, DTV transition deadline because the FCC is authorized to permit TV stations to occupy their analog channels until there is 85 percent DTV set penetration in a market. Potential bidders are concerned that a delay might lower the economic value of the spectrum. In light of this concern, the FCC will consider voluntary agreements between incumbent broadcasters and 700MHz providers to move broadcasters to a core channel prior to the deadline. Agreements would involve payment of the broadcasters' costs of channel relocation and perhaps additional costs. Now, in a recent order, the Commission has clarified the criteria it will use to evaluate such voluntary channel relocation agreements and has outlined the provisions that would trigger a regulatory presumption in favor of approval.

The Commission has established a rebuttable presumption that agreements are in the public interest if the change to the TV station's channel would:

- make new or expanded wireless services available to the public;

- clear frequencies for the provision of public safety services; or

- result in the provision of wireless services to rural or underserved communities.

The applicant would also need to show that grant of the request would not result in any one of the following:

- loss of any of the four TV stations in the DMA with the largest audience;

- loss of the sole service licensed to a community; or

- loss of a community's sole service on a channel reserved for non-commercial service.

Where a request does not meet these criteria, the Commission will review the agreement to determine exceptions.