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Broadcast Spectrum Comments Due Today

WASHINGTON: Comments are due today on the FCC’s public notice seeking feedback on reallocating broadcast spectrum for broadcasting. The Federal Communications Commission’s Blair Levin told National Public Radio this morning that “consumers increasingly want to use wireless communications.” It was Levin who first proffered the reallocation from within the FCC. The notion had been bouncing around Washington, D.C. think tanks, which are typically supported by special interest groups with a specific agenda. NPR’sNancy Marshall-Genzer quoted Levin saying that broadcasters didn’t need all the spectrum they have because most people get TV through cable.

The potential loss of competition among TV providers has not been part of the reallocation discussion. The National Association of Broadcaster’s Dennis Wharton told Marshall-Genzer that new services such as mobile broadcasting were in the works.

“The FCC, if it were to go through some of these plans, in essence would kill some of these efforts in the cradle,” Wharton said.

The Federal Communications Commission asked for more detail on the use of spectrum for DTV signals in a Dec. 2 public notice. The FCC’s Public Notice No. 26 is part of its overall docket focused on developing a nationwide broadband plan.

“After a review of the responses to the Spectrum for Broadband Public Notice, we seek more specific data on the use of spectrum currently licensed to broadcast television stations,” the notice stated. “This inquiry takes into account the value that the United States puts on free, over-the-air television, while also exploring market-based mechanisms for television broadcasters to contribute to the broadband effort any spectrum in excess of that which they need to meet their public interest obligations and remain financially viable. This inquiry also seeks to understand what processes and incentives could ensure continuing spectral efficiency gains for broadcasters going forward.”

A movement to relieve broadcasters of spectrum for use in the proposed broadband network started a couple of months ago. The spectrum where broadcast channels are allocated is deemed the most desirable for long-distance, two-way wireless networks. TV channels reside between 54 and 72 Mhz (Chs. 2-4); 76 and 88 Mhz (Chs. 5-6); 174 and 216 MHz (Chs. 7-13); 512 and 608 MHz (Chs. 21-36); and 614 and 698 MHz (Chs. 37-51). The TV spectrum between 698 and 806 MHz was freed up this summer by the digital transition and most was auctioned off to cell phone service providers.
The FCC notice requests input on comparing the use of spectrum for broadcast or wireless broadband, including the economic effect of not having enough for broadband or free, over-the-air TV.

“How should the commission evaluate the future economic value of over-the-air digital television and new capabilities to offer mobile TV broadcasting? How does the financial community in general view that future value?,” the Notice states.

It also asks for bit rates allocated to HD, SD, multicasting, bandwidth leasing and the correlative business rationale for each. The notice asks about future plans for broadcast spectrum, and proposes channel sharing among TV stations.

“Spectrum sharing arrangements may also entail geographic consolidation, if broadcasters who previously used different transmitting sites share spectrum at a single transmitter closer to the center of densely populated areas.”

Video compression technology is another area the notice touches on with an inquiry about improvements to the ATSC standard a la MPEG-2 and 8-VSB.

Directions for commenting are available in the FCC’s Public Notice No. 26.

(Image by Mikey G. Ottawa)
More on the spectrum debate:
October 26, 2009: “Broadcast Frequencies Deemed Easiest to Reallocate”