FAA Wants Involvement in VHF TV and FM Facility Matters

Who regulates RF spectrum in the United States? The obvious answer is the FCC, for non-federal licensees, and the NTIA, for federal operations. If an NPRM from the FAA becomes law, VHF TV broadcasters, FM radio broadcasters, satellite operators and even two-way radio and C-band uplink operators may have to add the FAA to the list of regulators.

In the proposed modification to 14 CFR 77.9(e)(1), the FAA would require that notice be given for the construction of a new, or modification of an existing facility, i.e. building, antenna structure, or any other man-made structure, which supports a radiating element(s) for the purpose of radio frequency transmission operating in the following frequency groups:

(i) 54-108 MHz
(ii) 150-216 MHz
(iii) 406-420 MHz
(iv) 932-935/941 MHz
(v) 952-960 MHz
(vi) 1,390-1,400 MHz
(vii) 2,500-2,700 MHz
(viii) 3,700-4,200 MHz
(ix) 5,000-5,650 MHz
(x) 5,925-6,525 MHz
(xi) 7,450-8,550 MHz
(xii) 14.2-14.4 GHz
(xiii) 21.2-23.6 GHz

It should be noted that there is no requirement that structures involved be tall enough to interfere with air navigation; only that structures being built or modified support an antenna for use in one or more of the above frequencies ranges. This list even includes frequencies that can only be used by other federal government agencies!

Why haven't you heard about this?

The NPRM isn't mentioned anywhere on the FCC's Web site, which is the primary source broadcasters and other spectrum users rely on for information on spectrum management. I heard about it through a friend who is a New York City TV transmitter supervisor and also in a forwarded e-mail authored by the only commenter in the proceeding focusing on spectrum management.

That's right, there is only one comment in this proceeding on the Department of Transportation Document Management System that even mentions spectrum management. The other comments support changes offered in the NPRM to improve air navigation without mentioning spectrum.

If you want to get one explanation of what is behind this small portion of the NPRM that has such a huge impact on many FCC licensees, read the comments from Marcus Spectrum Solutions. The comments outline a battle between the FAA and the FCC, which may surprise many readers.

If you are concerned about delays in modifying or constructing C-band uplinks, FM transmitter facilities or VHF TV facilities, you should read the Marcus comments. There is still time to file comments--they are due by Sept. 11 and should be submitted to http://dms.dot.gov/submit. The Marcus Spectrum Solutions comments offer suggestions for others wishing to comment: "I suggest that FCC licensees should say what a large burden this will be and how FAA/FCC coordination would be much more efficient for all involved and could focus on real problems, not huge blocks of spectrum."

Marcus Spectrum Solutions recommends that the FAA and FCC address what appears to be at the source of this problem--a mutual distrust between the two agencies when spectrum is concerned.

The comments include, "The good news is that the two worst antagonists on the FCC have retired in the past year and the worst antagonist on the FAA side retired a few years ago."

Credentials are not listed for Michael J. Marcus, who signed his company's comments, but it is mentioned that he worked for Dick Smith, chief of the FCC Field Operations Bureau and later chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, as well as Roy Stewart, chief of the Mass Media Bureau.

It is not unusual to see comments filed in the last days before a deadline, so we may have to wait until closer to the Sept. 11 date to see what users of the spectrum the FAA proposes to manage have to say. I'm sure most, if not all, are willing to take some action to make sure their facilities do not interfere with air navigation. From the language in the NPRM, it isn't clear however how difficult it will be for them to show the FAA that their facilities will not create problems affecting air navigation.