FCC, Canada, Coordinate Auction Repack

WASHINGTON—The U.S. and Canada have reached an initial agreement on repacking TV stations in the wake of next year’s incentive auction. The Federal Communications Commission signed a Statement of Intent with the Department of Industry of Canada on coordinating the effort. TV stations moved to different channels along either international border could run into interference without the coordination efforts. The FCC said it reached “similar results” with Mexico last month, and immediately followed Canada’s “Decision on Repurposing the 600 MHz Band.”

“Industry Canada will proceed with the repurposing initiative of the 600 MHz band to include commercial mobile use, and jointly establish a new digital TV allotment plan based on repacking OTA TV broadcasting stations more tightly in lower frequencies, in collaboration with the United States,” Industry Canada said. “Canada and the United States intend to develop an understanding on a set of principles guiding this process.”

The Canadian 600 MHz band plan will reflect the one the FCC set forth last year, FCC Incentive Auction Task Force chief, Gary Epstein, and Mindel DelaTorre, chief of the FCC International Bureau, wrote in a blog post.

“Industry Canada and the FCC will jointly repack TV stations on the same timetable,” they said.

The Statement of Intent sets for the following parameters:

Both agencies will start out with a figure of 42 MHz as a clearing target. The FCC is shooting for a maximum of 144 MHz, but the SoI noted that, “targets of repurposing 138 MHz or 144 MHz would require additional measures beyond those reflected in this Statement of Intent. The agencies plan to continue discussing such additional measures as the joint repurposing process proceeds.”

Canadian stations near the border that have to be moved will stay within the same frequency band, i.e., low VHF, high VHF and UHF. The same will go for U.S. stations unless the FCC authorizes a different frequency band. TV stations that do move to a different frequency band will be re-assigned to lower bands only.

Through the process, the two agencies intend to create a joint DTV allotment plan “containing contiguous TV channel assignments, to be subsequently used by the agencies for future use.”

While U.S. TV stations may end up in the wireless band after the auction, Canadian stations will not be moved to channels in mobile broadband spectrum, the SoI said.

The two agencies will also “conduct joint validation” on coverage, interference, constraint file generation, inter-service interference and other repack factors. The results of this validation process will be “subject to independent pre-auction verification and testing reviewable by both agencies.” Once the agencies confirm these technical parameters and the auction begins, the parameters will not be revised.

The SoI is contingent on the FCC closing a successful incentive auction.

“The agencies intend to implement the reconfiguration of spectrum use in the​ UHF band—470-698 MHz—only if the results of the FCC incentive auction are validated and confirmed in accordance with the provisions herein.”

Further technical details are contained in the SoI.

The FCC staff has been busy knocking out the rules and logistics of the spectrum auction, now set to start March 29, 2016. It most recently released procedural rules for the auction, and new rules for wireless microphones. Last Thursday, the commission also held a webinar on channel-sharing, one of three options for U.S. TV stations participating in the auction, along with going off the air or moving to a VHF assignment.

More details—including opening prices and coverage data—are expected in the coming weeks before the commission opens the application window for participating broadcasters this fall.