Final Comments Filed in TV Broadcast Allocations Proceeding

April 25 was the last day to file reply comments to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 10-196) regarding “Innovation in the Broadcast Television Bands: Allocations, Channel Sharing and Improvements to VHF.”

In reviewing the reply comments, I noticed some common themes in the filings.

Reply comments from the Consumer Electronics Association and CTIA – the Wireless Association and other supporters of reallocation of spectrum from TV broadcasting to wireless broadband focused on the growing use of wireless broadband and the need for more spectrum. Some reply comments noted that watching video online was one of the uses driving the need for more spectrum for wireless broadband.

The reply comments, when they mentioned the need to continue to support local TV broadcasting, did not address the real engineering problems inherent in eliminating TV broadcasting above Channel 30 in the most populated areas. The CTIA reply highlights comments from Ericsson’s proposal to move TV broadcasting to only 84 MHz of contiguous spectrum by converting TV from single transmitter ATSC broadcasting to a dense cellular network using the LTE Multimedia Broadcast/Multicast Service (MBMS) and OFDM.

Reply comments from broadcasters, including Local Television Broadcasters, Named State Broadcasters Associations, CBS, and NAB and MSTV, focused on the practical difficulties in taking 120 MHz of UHF TV spectrum under a voluntary plan without reducing coverage (either by smaller service areas or increased interference levels) and requiring that some stations move from UHF to VHF.

The broadcaster reply comments also focused on the one-to-many nature of broadcasting, and questioned the wisdom of moving video programming delivery from local broadcasters who have public interest obligations and who provide service for free (advertiser supported) to a small number of nationwide wireless operators that would likely charge for the service. Many pointed to the introduction of Mobile DTV as a way to provide video programming not only to the big screens in the home, but also to handheld receivers. Wireless broadband was not viewed as the only way to get programming to small devices.

Most reply comments supporting broadcasters questioned whether there really was a “spectrum crisis” that needed immediate action. A common theme was that any spectrum reallocation plan must be truly voluntary.

Some of the reply comments focused on specific parts of the NPRM. Smartcomm LLC, in its Reply Comments said that other comments in the proceeding reinforce Smartcomm's position that the FCC should provide LPTV broadcasters with options to either continuing their current operations, return spectrum for an incentive auction, enter into spectrum sharing agreements with broadband providers, or to give up their broadcast service in order to provide mobile broadband, either by themselves or through partnerships with broadband providers.

The Reply Comments of the Walt Disney Company emphasized the efforts ABC-owned VHF stations have made to overcome significant obstacles in providing reliable broadcast service but stated that “additional power is required for these stations to improve service to their former over-the-air analog viewing areas in a meaningful manner.”

Disney is concerned that if the FCC attempts to move more stations to VHF, this will hinder the ability of existing VHF DTV stations to provide coverage. Disney noted that “The Commission's proposal to increase the maximum effective radiated power permissible for Zone I television stations, while helpful to a degree, is of limited benefit due to the restrictions on interference to adjacent and co-channel operations.”

The Disney filing further noted that the FCC should avoid taking any action that would enable a station which has been adequately serving its former analog viewing coverage area to increase power or move to a VHF channel at the expense of a station which has not been able to resolve “the VHF reception problems suffered by its viewers.“

Reply comments from the Consumer Electronics Association and RadioShack opposed requirements that all TV antennas have to provide VHF reception and meet certain standards, citing comments from others, including the NAB and other broadcasters, in supporting this argument. Reply comments from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Dish Network LLC expressed concern that the channel sharing proposed in the NPRM could lead to “new” stations that could demand carriage by multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs).

Dish expressed concern that channel sharing could disqualify eligible satellite TV subscribers from receiving distant network programming, noting, “Current law would not, in fact, recognize a channel sharing arrangement as creating either a 'primary stream' or a ‘multicast stream' that would serve to disqualify duly qualified unserved households in a given local market from receiving a distant signal for a particular network, because neither stream would originate with the original licensee for the relevant spectrum.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group's Reply Comments deserve special mention, as they highlight the development of Mobile DTV broadcasting and the disadvantages of favoring wireless broadband carriers in the delivery of mobile television content.

Sinclair stated, “In other contexts the FCC has attempted to break the subscription carriers’ stranglehold on the supply chain of mobile devices and the services that can be accessed using those devices. The basic principle is that consumers should be able to mix and match hardware, services and applications without having to accept the wireless carriers’ Hobson’s choice: 'if you want to access my network, you take the devices and services I permit or none at all.'”

Sinclair argued that the policy choice implicit in the NPRM “would inexorably drive the fastest growing segment of mobile services into the hands of the wireless carriers.”

The company’s comments stated that in theory it would be possible for anyone to bid on reclaimed broadcast spectrum. However, in practice, the highest bids would likely come from carriers having the deepest pockets and who would “impose a substantial recurring price tag on access to mobile video services.” Sinclair said that if those carriers were to be allowed to control the spectrum used for the fastest growing mobile service, then the FCC would be allowing those companies to control yet another service, and that this would give them “even more control over the market for mobile devices themselves.”

Sinclair pointed to comments from Capitol Broadcasting Co. stating that a broadcast architecture is the only way to meet demand for mobile video. It also agreed with Capitol's comment that since a broadcast architecture will be required to meet demand, there is no public policy rationale to take spectrum already allocated for broadcasting and assign it to wireless providers who will develop their own broadcast capability.

Sinclair pointed out that “The pace of innovation in services provided in the television bands is limited by the FCC, not the licensees that occupy the bands. Broadcast licensees, working with the ATSC and many of the same technology suppliers that provide hardware and systems to mobile broadband service providers, are aggressively pressing ahead with innovative new technologies and services.”

Sinclair further noted that “the fallacy of the NPRM is that it assumes television broadcasting will remain static while wireless carriers charge ahead with innovation.”

The reply comments discussed above and others available from the FCC Search for Filed Comments site (enter 10-235 in the “Proceeding” box) frame the issues the FCC will have to address as it proceeds with implementation of the National Broadband Plan's recommendations for reallocation of TV broadcast spectrum.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.