Commissioner Ajit Pai Supports ‘Down from 51’ Band Plan

It was evident from last week's Incentive Auction update that there are several critical issues that have to be resolved before UHF TV spectrum can be auctioned, one of them being the 600 MHz band plan. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai issued statement on the current state of the record concerning the 600 MHz band plan on Tuesday.

He acknowledged the “overwhelming support” for the “Down from 51” band plan, and “no support at all in the record for the “Down from 51 Reversed” plan, and stated, “Now is the time for my colleagues and I to accept this consensus and turn to the details of a ‘Down from 51’ band plan. In particular, we need to figure out how much spectrum above Ch. 37 should be paired, and we must confront the issue of market variability directly. As we do our work, our lodestar must be a band plan that works from a technical perspective. We can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the past, such as the interference problems plaguing the Lower 700 MHz A Block and the LightSquared debacle. That means, for example, that our band plan must prevent interference among wireless carriers, broadcasters, and wireless medical telemetry service operators. That is in the interest of data-hungry mobile consumers. That is in the interest of families that watch broadcast television. That is in the interest of patients and health care providers. And ultimately, that is in the interest of all Americans.”

Reading Commissioner Pai’s statement, it seems to me the debate will now move to how to handle market variability. There is pressure to auction the maximum amount of spectrum. In areas where TV markets are packed together, as in the Northwest U.S., less spectrum will be available than in less densely populated areas. If the FCC bases the amount of spectrum on what can be offered nationwide, “unused” spectrum will be left in many areas, reducing auction revenue. Auctioning this “regional” spectrum will create problems for wireless carriers – they will have to include frequencies consumers in urban areas may never use and may experience interference from high power broadcasts in adjacent markets, especially during when weather conditions allow enhanced propagation. Broadcasters may also experience interference problems on the edges of their coverage area.

Perhaps one of the solutions Commissioner Pai and his associates should consider is focusing on a nationwide plan, which should bring in the highest per MHz auction revenue, and allowing that “unused” spectrum in less congested areas to be used for TV band white space deployment, perhaps even reserving some spectrum for this as long as sufficient spectrum remains for wireless microphones.

We’re seeing more examples of white space spectrum being used to provide wireless broadband in rural areas where it doesn't make sense to build out a dense cellular network. Nothing prevents a wireless operator like AT&T or Verizon from using TV band white space devices in these areas and if they aren't interested, it will be much easier for a rural telephone company or cable company to provide wireless broadband to its consumers with white space technology than to license and build out a cellular network.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.