Broadcast TV Spectrum Auctions Actions Coming in November

WASHINGTON: The FCC intends to formalize rules by which TV broadcasters voluntarily relinquish spectrum in return for compensation. Establishing incentive auctions is among three items announced today by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for the commission’s November agenda.

“In these two-sided auctions, we propose that current spectrum licensees, such as TV broadcasters, could voluntarily relinquish spectrum; the FCC would then auction spectrum for flexible wireless broadband, and some portion of the proceeds would be shared with the old licensee,” Genachowski said at a Spectrum Summit held today at the commission.

Paying broadcasters to hand over spectrum is a “big idea,” the chairman allowed, adding that the need for wireless broadband in the country was proportional. A white paper on freeing spectrum for wireless broadband was also released at the Summit. It reiterated much of what the Genachowski commission’s been saying since it rolled out the National Broadband Plan last March: That a spectrum shortage looms.

According to today’s white paper, the spectrum “deficit” for wireless devices will hit 300 MHz within five years. However, it notes that a baseline of 170 MHz was used to model national needs, rather than the 547 MHz actually licensed for mobile broadband and voice. (See “FCC White Paper Factors Out Undeveloped Wireless Spectrum.”)

“The majority of the remaining 377 MHz has been made available within the past six years and is just now coming online,” the document says. The paper mostly emphasizes how the use of wireless devices will outpace baseline available spectrum and technology.

Many broadcasters have publicly denounced interest in trading in spectrum, but times are tough and many stations are suffering financially. Genachowski said he was “pleased that broadcasters are thinking seriously” about incentive auctions.

The same proposed rulemaking will include the concept of channel sharing whereby broadcasters are allowed a 6 MHz allotment. It will also seek ways to improve DTV reception in the VHF band, “to make it a more effective option for broadcasters,” Genachowski said.

A second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Genachowski announced would cover the expansion of the FCC’s experimental licensing program.

“For example, you’ve probably seen the TV ads featuring new potentially life-saving anti-collision systems in cars. That technology requires spectrum, and it was developed using an experimental license,” he said. “Experimental licensing also played a key role in white spaces and super Wi-fi.”

The item would consider easing restrictions on entities testing new services and technology using the radio frequency spectrum. Genachowski said it would give the FCC “on-the-ground intelligence on interference issues.”

The third item for the November agenda is a Notice of Inquiry on secondary markets, such as those relying on spectrum databases, sensing technology or “new innovations in the works at various private companies,” Genachowski said.

The chairman also announced the formation of a Technology Advisory Council, to be headed by Tom Wheeler, managing director of Core Capital Partners and former chief of the CTIA, the lobby representing wireless providers. He’ll be joined by Doug Sicker, the FCC’s chief technologist. Walter Johnson, the commission’s chief of electromagnetic compatibility division, will serve as the council’s designated federal officer, while Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology will serve as alternate.

The FCC’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30.
-- Deborah D. McAdams