FCC Invites Fresh Comments on 700 MHz Spectrum Plans

Four years after the FCC established initial plans and rules for recovering the 700 MHz spectrum from television broadcasters, the commission is dusting off the box and opening the lid for a new round of comments regarding that real estate.

At issue is 90 MHz of bandwidth in the 698-806 MHz region.

The Digital Television and Public Safety Act of 2005, which became law earlier this year, mandates that the FCC begin auctioning off this reclaimed spectrum by Jan. 28, 2008. With the rapid evolution of technology, what seemed the best plan in 2002 for its use with regard to wireless licensees may not be best now.

In a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) adopted Aug. 3, the commission has invited interested parties to make their feelings known regarding possible changes to rules governing wireless licensees in the 698-746 MHz, the 747-762 MHz and the 777-792 MHz spectrum blocks, commonly referred to as "the 700 MHz band."

Comments are sought on matters such as changing the size of both the geographic service areas and spectrum blocks recognized in the spectrum reallocation, as well as on a possible performance requirement changes for the yet unauctioned spectrum.

Specifically, the NPRM addresses input on possibly dividing Block D in the upper 700 MHz band into smaller blocks, as well as adding or revising performance requirements for unauctioned spectrum. The commission is also considering revising and/or extending terms of license and modification of existing 700 MHz band power limits.

"We are reevaluating our service rules for this band to account for Congress' recent adoption of digital television legislation and the needs of both small and large digital service providers," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, with regard to the opening of the comment period. "Consumers are increasingly demanding access to broadband services any time they want it, wherever they want it. This spectrum will help bring consumers everywhere more opportunities to use these services both at home and on the go."

It's not just about consumer broadband either.

The NPRM also requests comments on a tentative conclusion reached that licensees in the 700 MHz band should be covered by the Enhanced 911 (E911) and hearing aid-compatibility requirements that exist in other regions of the spectrum.

"We intend to ensure that service providers in this band and other broadband bands comply with our E911 and hearing aid-compatibility rules," Martin said.

The commission said that, due to the extreme importance of public safety operations in the 700 MHz band, no action would be taken that could cause harmful interference to public service licensees.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein also voiced his support for input into the new rules.

"The Notice we adopt today sets up an important discussion to ensure that the 700 MHz band is quickly and efficiently put to use and that parts of the spectrum do not remain an untapped well for the thirsty," Adelstein said. "I fully support the timing of this Notice, as I have regularly commented how exceedingly important it is that we do what we can to keep the Commission on the leading edge of spectrum-based technology and policy."

The NPRM also seeks comment on ways to facilitate 700 MHz band wireless access for Native American communities on Tribal lands.

The closing date for comments for the NPRM will be announced at a later date.