Spectrum Comments Pour into FCC

WASHINGTON: A proposal to create a national wireless broadband network is generating tens of thousands of comments at the Federal Communications Commission. Commenters range from lobbies, think tanks, schools, phone companies, citizens, and the likes of the Waukesha County Department of Emergency Preparedness.

Each has an agenda. Waukesha County emergency responders want communications licensed in the 700 MHz block of spectrum. A previous effort by the FCC to auction a slice of 700 MHz as a public-private partnership for emergency communications failed to attract sufficient bids.

Lawrence Touitou of Burlingame, Calif., urged the FCC to enforce network neutrality. The National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, D.C. urged the commission to keeps its mitts off of television spectrum. The NAB was joined in its comments by the Association for Maximum Service TV: “MSTV and NAB herein reject the notion put forth by a select few commenters affiliated with the commercial wireless industry—namely, that to achieve a world-class broadband ecosystem, one must curtail or even eliminate consumers’ access to a free and robust over-the-air digital television service.”

The wireless industry is hotly pursuing the notion that using airwaves for broadband is a far better use of spectrum than TV. The Wireless Association (CTIA), along with the Consumer Electronics Association, asked the FCC this week to “investigate potential reallocation of broadcast spectrum.”

“To our knowledge,” they wrote, “the commission has never conducted a detailed evaluation of advanced television services, nor has it made an assessment of alternative uses and the ability of the commission to reduce the amount of spectrum assigned to broadcast television licensees. 

“This spectrum is uniquely suited for mobile broadband applications, devices and services--it has highly favorable propagation characteristics and is directly adjacent to the 700 and 800 MHz spectrum utilized by the commercial wireless industry. We therefore urge the commission to take immediate action to initiate the Congressionally mandated evaluation of broadcast television spectrum usage.”

The Congressional mandate refers to the Communications Act, which directs the FCC to conduct an evaluation within 10 years of issuing licenses for advanced TV services, otherwise known as digital TV.Several broadcast groups weighed in, echoing the NAB and MSTV comments and further saying such a reallocation would be anticompetitive.

“Consumers value video programming more highly than any other content, and a reallocation of broadcast spectrum could conveniently eliminate the wireless industry’s most serious competitive threat—mobile DTV.,” 16 TV station groups said in a joint reply comment. “Indeed, a spectrum reallocation from television to wireless broadband would amount to the commission picking industry winners and losers.”

A filing from PBS Counsel Matthew DelNero reminded the commission how much money had just been spent on realizing digital television--several billions, including federal, state, local and donated dollars.

The pitch of the battle is beginning to draw in lawmakers. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) penned a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, prodding the regulator to protect broadcasting. The letter, initially obtained and reported by John Eggerton of Broadcasting & Cable, conveyed Dingell’s concern about reallocating spectrum. 

“Particularly as commercial and non-commercial broadcasters surrendered nearly one-third of their spectrum to the federal government in order to facilitate the recent transition from analog to digital signal transmission, I believe that a further loss of spectrum by broadcasters may have an adverse effect upon consumers by limiting their choice in available broadcast television,” Dingell wrote. “This in mind, it is my belief that the commission can accomplish its statutorily mandated duty to complete a national broadband plan and promote the expansion of broadband infrastructure in the near-term, while at the same time preserve to the greatest extent possible for consumers the availability of free, over-the-air local broadcasting.” 

The FCC must present a nationwide broadband plan to Congress by February.

(Image by Eric Harmatz )

Additional resources:
The FCC radio frequency allocation chart.
The commission’s “Online Table of Frequency Allocations.”

Bazelon’s paper, “The Need for Additional Spectrum for Wireless Broadband: The Economic Benefits and Costs of Reallocation.”

More on the spectrum war:
November 11, 2009: “Satellite Firms Shop Spectrum to FCC” Two satellite companies have approached the FCC with a plan for freeing up spectrum for national wireless broadband.

October 27, 2009: “Yo! NAB Raps CEA-funded Spectrum Study” The National Association of Broadcasters today dismissed a recent study funded by the Consumer Electronics Association estimating the market-value of broadcast television spectrum.

October 26, 2009: “Broadcast Frequencies Deemed Easiest to Reallocate”  The latest salvo in the intensifying battle over spectrum is a research paper that asserts broadband is a more cost-effective use than broadcasting.

October 26, 2009: “Broadcasters Want Facts About Spectrum Demands” The folks representing broadcasting in Washington would like a little more information about the FCC’s developing spectrum plan.

October 22, 2009: “Virginia Town Exemplifies White Space Usage” The community of Claudville, Va., is quintessentially “unserved,” an archetype for using TV spectrum for wireless broadband.

October 13, 2009: “The Winds of Spectrum War” The impetus of the digital TV transition was to free up spectrum for wireless carriers, but what seemed sufficient when the effort began is no longer the case.

October 12, 2009: “FCC Grants Microsoft White Space Licenses” Microsoft now has an experimental license to use TV channels around Redmond, Wash., for testing unlicensed devices.

September 28, 2009: “Broadband Spectrum Feedback Sought”
“We seek additional comment on the fundamental question of whether current spectrum allocations, including but not limited to the prime bands below 3.7 GHz, are adequate to support near- and longer-term demands of wireless broadband.”

Sept. 17, 2009:“Legislators Press for Spectrum Inventory” Legislators and regulators alike agreed that an inventory was in order.

July 13, 2009: “Boucher Proffers House Spectrum Bill” Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have rolled out a bill that would initiate a radio spectrum inventory.

April 10, 2009: “National Broadband Plan Includes Wireless and TV White Spaces” “Given the importance to wireless broadband services of backhaul to the PSTN and the Internet, how can this spectrum be maximized to provide point-to-point backhaul in rural areas?

February 6, 2009: “Boeing Receives Experimental License in TV Broadcast Spectrum” The WE2XVQ experimental license issued to the Boeing Company allows operation in.... broadcast TV VHF channels 11, 12 and 13 and all UHF TV channels except 37.