CTIA takes aim at TV spectrum; broadcast associations counter

The nation’s wireless industry wants at least 800MHz of spectrum below 3GHz and has cast its eye on bands used by television broadcasters, satellite operators and fixed microwave providers, as well as those currently being used by the government.

In reply comments filed with the FCC regarding the agency’s inquiry into establishing a national broadband plan, CTIA, the international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, called for the FCC to identify “contiguous blocks of spectrum to be reallocated or repurposed for licensed commercial wireless service.”

The filing reminded the commission that its task is not just to allocate any spectrum to meet the growing need for wireless service but “to allocate the right spectrum which will best facilitate mobile wireless broadband services and to adopt the right spectrum policies which will maximize investment, innovation and efficiency in the deployment of these networks.”

One such block of frequencies is the 470MHz to 698MHz band used by TV broadcasters, the filing said. This so-called “beachfront property,” which is highly desirable because of its propagation characteristics, “is ideally suited to the provision of mobile broadband services,” the CTIA filing said.

The filing directly took on an assertion of the NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television that broadcast TV use of spectrum serves the public interest. According to the CTIA, “the public interest clearly favors reallocation of broadcast television spectrum for commercial mobile wireless use.”

Taking aim at statements from the broadcast associations that TV is engineered to serve the public interest, the CTIA filing said shareholders in commercial TV companies expect a return on investment and that “goes beyond solely acting in the ‘public interest.’”

The filing also took issue with comments from the broadcast associations that TV broadcasters make efficient use of their bandwidth. A high-power TV station “not only requires the 6MHz channel,” the CTIA filing said, but also requires “between 6 and 12MHz of ‘buffer’ on either side of the channel” so as not to interfere with other full-power TV broadcasters. Additionally, technology enhancements developed since the adoption of the ATSC DTV standard today allow TV broadcasters to carry multiple SD channels in their 6MHz channel, as well as newly developed mobile DTV channels.

“Given today’s growing spectrum crisis for usable spectrum below 3GHz, the commission must consider revisiting the determination that this type of utilization of scarce spectrum resources is still in the public interest,” it said.

NAB and MSTV in reply comments filed Nov. 13 with the commission rejected the idea “put forth by a select few commenters affiliated with the commercial wireless industry” that reducing or ending viewer access to over-the-air digital TV is necessary to develop nationwide broadband access.

Both Congress and the Obama Administration demonstrated the importance of maintaining public access to news, information and emergency alerts via OTA television when they moved to delay the DTV transition from February to June, the filing said.

Rather than reallocating TV spectrum for broadband use, the FCC “should pursue two public policy goals — the maintenance of a free, over-the-air digital television service and the creation of a national strategy for improving broadband access and adoption- in tandem as critical components of the Nation’s communications policy,” the joint NAB and MSTV filing said.

A Nov. 16 letter from Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, echoed that sentiment. In the letter, Dingell said it was his belief that “the Commission can accomplish its statutorily mandated duty to complete a national broadband plan and promote the expansion of broadband infrastructure in the near-term while at the same time preserve to the greatest extent possible for consumers the availability of free, over-the-air, local broadcasting.”

The filing from the NAB and MSTV also reminded the commission of the expense consumers have paid to do their share in the DTV transition. “Consumers spent billions of dollars investing in digital and high-definition (“HD”) television receivers and digital-to-analog converter boxes so that they could experience the benefits of digital broadcasting, including HD and multicast programming, and other ancillary and supplementary services.”

The reply comments also reminded the agency of the bandwidth efficiency of the broadcast industry’s new ATSC A/53 standard in delivering video to viewers on the go. The CTIA has asserted that watching an online video via wireless broadband requires 100 times the data bandwidth of a voice call and that by 2013, 64 percent of worldwide mobile traffic will be video, the broadcast associations said.

Mobile DTV transmission based on the ATSC A/53 standard “provides wide-area coverage at a data rate of almost 20Mb/s within a 6MHz channel, making it one of the most efficient transmission systems available for disseminating high bit-rate content to a mass audience,” the associations’ filing said.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.