Shared spectrum

On Nov. 30, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) looking toward the eventual accommodation of mobile broadband services in the UHF TV band. The agency sees broadband as a more important and efficient use of this spectrum than over-the-air broadcasting.

The goal of the proposed rules is to coax existing TV licensees off their current channels in order to free up blocks of prime spectrum, which would then be auctioned off for broadband use. While the commission does not yet have the authority to offer broadcasters a portion of the proceeds from such auctions, bills now pending in Congress would provide such authority. The NPRM is intended to put the commission in a position to move as quickly as possible toward the planned spectrum repurposing should Congress give it the power to share auction proceeds with displaced broadcasters.

The NPRM proposes three significant changes to the FCC's rules, detailed below.

Shared use with broadband users

The FCC is proposing to amend its rules to include fixed and mobile wireless services as potential uses in the VHF and UHF spectrum blocks currently reserved primarily for television.

This change by itself would not mean that broadband users would flood the television spectrum. Rather, it would mean that the commission could authorize such uses. However, there is little doubt the FCC will authorize such uses once other changes, described below, are implemented.

Shared channel use by TV stations

The commission is proposing rule changes to permit two television licensees in the same market to “share” one of their 6MHz channels, thereby freeing the second channel for broadband uses. Under such a sharing arrangement, two stations would share a single transmitting facility, although each station would remain separately licensed. This plan, the FCC says, would free up for broadband use as much as 50 percent of the spectrum currently devoted to television. Licensees that agree to share channels would be able to maintain their must-carry rights on cable, satellite or other MVPD systems.

Maximization of VHF spectrum use

The commission is proposing to move as many incumbent TV stations as possible from UHF onto the VHF band because UHF spectrum is particularly good for broadband operation. To provide incentives for such channel moves, the FCC is proposing VHF power increases and other means to improve the performance of indoor antennas. The goal is to try to offset any disadvantages, perceived or real, in VHF operation. In particular, the commission is seeking comment on the adoption of the baseline standards for indoor antennas using the 2009 ANSI/CEA-2032 standard, which establishes testing and measurement procedures for indoor antennas.


While the NPRM clearly sets the stage for TV repurposing, it's only the first step in what will likely be a complicated and contentious process. At a minimum, the repacking of large numbers of TV operations into a tighter block of the spectrum will present thorny issues, including how to come up with a new DTV Table of Allotments. Additionally, thousands of low-power TV, Class A TV and TV translator stations operating on channels not included on the current DTV table will face displacement. While some of these stations may be able to take advantage of the proposed channel-sharing rules, it is not anticipated that such accommodations will be high on the FCC's priority list. The current FCC sees over-the-air television as inefficient and expendable in the context of the broadband revolution.

Comments on the NPRM will be due in the first quarter of 2011. It is expected the FCC's proposals will draw heavy fire from the TV industry, which is reeling from the DTV transition; from increased competition from cable, satellite and Internet services; and from a loss of ad revenues as a result of the down economy.

Harry C. Martin is a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, PLC.


  • Noncommercial TV stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and New York must file their biennial ownership reports by Feb. 1, 2011.
  • By Feb. 1, TV and Class A TV stations in the following locations must place their EEO public file reports in their files and post them on their websites: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Oklahoma.
  • Feb. 1 is the deadline for TV stations in New Jersey and New York to electronically file their broadcast EEO midterm reports (Form 397) with the FCC.

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