McDowell backs voluntary broadcast spectrum transfers, seeks advice

Speaking to a group of broadcasters in Virginia last week, FCC commissioner Robert McDowell said he favors "exploring the possibilities" of voluntary transfer of some broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband use "as long as it is truly voluntary."

McDowell, who addressed the Virginia Association of Broadcasters June 25 in Virginia Beach, told his audience that at the heart of making voluntary spectrum transfers a reality is the concept of incentive auctions, which would reward TV broadcasters surrendering spectrum by letting them share in the proceeds of a spectrum auction with the government.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan calls for reallocating 120MHz of TV spectrum for use by wireless broadband service providers.

However, the FCC commissioner said incentive auctions may require Congressional approval.

"But I am eager to hear the legal arguments on both sides of that question. In other words, we have a way to go before anything concrete can happen," he said in prepared remarks.

Referencing OBI Technical Paper No. 3 released in June, McDowell encouraged the broadcasters to read the document and provide perspective on several of the ideas raised in the report, including:

  • A new method for optimizing channel allotments;
  • The concept of “channel sharing,” which calls for broadcasters to pair up and split the use of one 6MHz channel with; and
  • Options for designing incentive auctions.

The FCC commissioner also expressed concern over the prospect of making two mini DTV transitions — one to repack channels following a change to interference rules and a second after incentive auctions. As a veteran of the DTV transition, "the idea of two more mini-transitions makes me a bit queasy," he said. However, McDowell said he wished to hear from all stakeholders on the approach.

McDowell expressed the desire to receive guidance from Congress on the reallocation issue and to explore options that already exist under current law that would let broadcasters lease spectrum for ancillary and supplemental uses like wireless broadband.