FCC cleans up MDS and ITFS service rules

In a much-anticipated order, the FCC corrected, clarified and revised most of the miscues that had marred its 2004 decision re-vamping the MDS/ITFS band. The revisions make the band more commercially viable for the distribution of broadband video and Internet services. The 2500MHz to 2690MHz band had been mired for decades in a mix of channels interleaved for educational service (EBS) and commercial multipoint distribution service (BRS). At the same time, legacy rules and procedures prevented operators from assembling viable bandwidth.

The new specifications

Under the new band plan, the channels assigned to licensees would be shuffled around to create a small core of high-power 6MHz midband channels useable for wide-area video transmissions and two bands of low-power 5.5MHz channels suitable for cellular-type operations. Replacement spectrum for old MDS Channels 1 and 2 and largely unused MDS return channels would create a large swath of prime spectrum in the 2496MHz to 2690MHz band ideally suited for fixed and portable 3G applications.

The problem with the 2004 rules was the FCC ordained that the transition from the old band plan to the new one would be initiated and orchestrated in each market by individual licensees or spectrum lessees. The markets were defined as major economic areas, and they were so vast in size that no one was willing to undertake the financial burden of transitioning a market. Not one market has transitioned in the 19 months since the restructuring was adopted.

The latest order adopts the industry's near unanimous recommendation that transitions occur on a basic trading area (BTA)-by-BTA basis, which will be much more manageable. In addition, the order clarified the following key points:

  • Parties have 30 months from the effective date of the new rules to initiate a transition, and the transition must then be completed within 18 months.
  • A transition “proponent” may demand reimbursement from the other commercial licensees, commercial lessees of both EBS and BRS spectrum in the market, and from non-commercial EBS licensees who use their spectrum for commercial services.
  • Reimbursement of the proponent is due as soon as the transition is complete. However, the FCC established no mechanism for enforcing the payment obligation.
  • EBS spectrum leases from educators can last a maximum of 30 years, subject to license renewals during the lease term and subject also to the educator being able to reevaluate its educational needs for the service every five years after the 15th year.
  • Build-out requirements were clarified to provide “safe harbors” of service provision levels, which will assure renewal if attained.
  • Any decisions about auctioning vacant spectrum have been tabled until the transition process is closer to completion.
  • Regulatory fees will be assessed on the basis of market size (in three graduated tiers), and the amount of spectrum will be assigned rather than on a call-sign-by-call-sign basis.

Harry C. Martin is the past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC.


October 2 is the filing deadline for renewal applications and EEO program reports for TV stations in Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, the Pacific Islands and Washington. This deadline also applies to TV translators, LPTV and Class A stations in those states, although translators and LPTV stations that do not originate programming do not have to file EEO reports.

October 2 is the deadline for TV stations in the following states and territories to file their biennial ownership reports: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington.

October 2 is the deadline for TV and Class A stations in the following states and territories to place their 2006 EEO public file reports in their public files and post them on their Web sites: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, the Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington. LPTV stations originating programming in these locations, which are not required to have public files, must post these reports on their Web sites and keep them in their station records.

Send questions and comments to:harry.martin@penton.com