NAB Will Accept Six Stations in Duplex Gap, No DRP

The graph is Fig. 23 of the FCC's June 2 R&O, page 453. Light Blue: post-incentive auction wireless spectrum; Orange: Channel 37 reserved for radio astronomy and medical telemetry. Diagonally shaded gray: guard bands. The left one is the duplex gap. Blocks 21–36 and 38–44 represent the remaining DTV channels based on the amount of spectrum sold, indicated at left. WASHINGTON—The National Association of Broadcasters said it’s OK to put six TV stations in the duplex gap in the post-incentive auction repack, but only if they must. The NAB’s Rick Kaplan proffered the compromise in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday. It opened with a cautionary tale about not overdoing it.

“The NAB urges the commission to uphold the widely supported compromise it adopted in the incentive auction order that dedicates the 600 MHz duplex gap for unlicensed uses and wireless microphones used to cover breaking news and local and national emergencies,” Kaplan said. “It is unclear why, 14 months after the FCC adopted this compromise, commission staff now believes it essential to impair the duplex gap with TV stations in certain markets across the country. If adopted, this change would eliminate both the guaranteed nationwide channel for unlicensed uses and the very limited remaining reserved spectrum available to broadcasters to cover critical news events. No other solution being discussed comes close to supporting both of these important services.”

Kaplan further said that, while the NAB “remains opposed to the proposed impairments,” it would accept six TV stations in the duplex gap—the buffer zone between wireless up- and downlink spectrum. “Impairment” refers to the interference that putting a TV station in the duplex gap will create for the adjacent wireless carrier. Putting TV stations in the duplex gap renders it ineffectual for newsgathering and reduces the value of the adjacent wireless spectrum. Broadcasters, wireless operators, the white-space device camp and the wireless mic contingent all opposed the FCC proposal to stick TV stations in the duplex gap.

The duplex gap initially was designated for use by wireless microphones and unlicensed, or “white-space” devices. Then the commission discovered it couldn’t reach its lowest incentive auction clearing target of 84 MHz nationwide without being able to put TV stations in the duplex gap. It was set to vote last week on auction rules that would have allowed it, and waived what’s known as the “sunshine period” to release related information late on a Friday evening six days before the meeting. Red flags flew at the NAB, lawmakers got involved and the FCC pulled the item. (See “FCC Postpones Incentive Auction Vote.”)

The meeting was held. The commission voted on another item, and in a press scrum after the meeting, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said they needed to put a TV station in the duplex gap in six markets. He did not say how many, but the NAB’s letter said they would agree to one each in up to six markets, with just one of those markets among the top 25.

This is consistent with the data illustrated in the FCC’s sunshine document, in which TV stations in Los Angeles—the second largest TV market in the United States—would end up in the duplex gap at an 84 MHz clearing target. The total number of markets impaired is six. They are Los Angeles (2), Harrisburg, Penn. (45); Madison, Wis. (82); Buffalo, N.Y. (52); Milwaukee (35) and Flint, Mich. (70).

The second of three illustrated clearing targets—114 MHz—would impair seven markets, but none in the top 25. The third—126 MHz—would leave just two markets impaired, though one would be No. 12 Detroit, which likely will be fraught with Canadian coordination issues.

Kaplan emphasized that once the FCC reached its clearing target, that no more stations be put in the duplex gap.

“Thus, if a volunteering station elects to drop out of the auction and cannot be repacked in the broadcast portion of the band, the commission must buy that station at its last accepted price,” Kaplan said. The commission was considering a mechanism called “dynamic reserve pricing” to allow it to adjust that price downward, but seller opposition was fast and furious.

The letter said that the NAB preferred leaving all TV stations out of the duplex gap, and that the commission had “produced no data to suggest that the success of the auction hinges on its ability to impair the duplex gap.”

With the auction eight months away, however, the NAB said it would accept a six-market impairment limit with no dynamic reserve pricing.

Also see…

July 21, 2015
Incentive Auction is Eight Months Away
The Federal Communications Commission is considering a date certain of March 29, 2016, reflecting its previously stated goal of getting it done during the first quarter of next year.

July 16, 2015
What the Heck Is The ‘Duplex Gap’ And Why Has It Blown Up The July FCC Meeting?”
“Difficult as it is to believe, there are times in policy when issues do not break down simply by partisan interest or into neat categories like incumbents v. competitors or broadcasters v. wireless carriers.”

June 12, 2015
McAdams On: The Auction’s ‘Poison Pill’
One of the most contested components of the proposed TV spectrum auction rules is “dynamic reserve pricing.”

February 17, 2015
Eleven FCC Scenarios for The 600 MHz Band Plan
The FCC is proposing 11 scenarios for a 600 MHz Band Plan following the spectrum auctions. Which of these will be adopted will be determined by the outcome of the auction in 2016.