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FCC Rearranges Post-DTV Transition 700 MHz Spectrum

The FCC has rearranged allocations for the 700 MHz spectrum now used for TV Channels 52 to 69. A significant portion of the spectrum, 22 MHz, will be auctioned with a requirement that the winner allow "open access" to the spectrum from other devices. Another block of spectrum was reserved for a private/public partnership that would provide broadband access under contract to public safety users. While previously auctioned guard band spectrum was moved, the changes did not affect TV Channel 55, which Qualcomm is using for its MediaFLO service, and lower 700 MHz C Block spectrum (TV Channels 54 and 59), which is licensed to Aloha Partners and others.

Of interest to TV stations considering use of some of their spectrum to provide programming (free or pay) to mobile and portable devices, the new band plan appears to limit the spectrum available for nationwide "broadcast" services like MediaFLO. The only new nationwide spectrum allocation is 10 MHz at 758-763 MHz and 788-793 MHz and that block is associated with the 700 MHz Public/Private Partnership. The 22 MHz Upper 700 MHz C Block will be auctioned in 12 regional economic area groupings (REAGs), but requires licensees to provide "a platform that is more open to devices and applications," according to the FCC. The FCC said it would use "package bidding" procedures to "assist bidders that are trying to create a national footprint." All other spectrum blocks will be auctioned as 176 or more licenses, which could make it difficult to put together nationwide coverage.

Commercial licensees winning spectrum in new auctions in this band will face more stringent performance requirements, especially in rural areas. Licensees that fail to meet the four-year interim geographic (35 percent of the area for licenses based on Cellular Market Areas or Economic Areas) or population (40 percent of the population for licenses based on REAGs) benchmarks will have their license term reduced from 10 years to eight years. If licensees fail to meet the end-of-term build out requirements, the FCC will reclaim unserved portions of the license area and make them available to other users.

The FCC provided little detail on the more open platform requirement for the Upper 700 MHz C Block spectrum, other than saying it would let consumers use the handset of their choice and be able to download and use the applications of their choice. It would also be subject to certain reasonable network management conditions that would let the licensee protect the network from harm.

The full requirements should be outlined in the Second Report and Order, which has not been released.