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FCC Adopts Incentive Auction Rules at Recent Meeting

At its May 15 Open Commission Meeting the FCC adopted rules for the incentive auction of UHF TV spectrum. One of the more significant decisions was to adopt a variable band plan, meaning wireless carriers and broadcasters will share some of the same spectrum. (For background see my article Broadcasters Flag Problems With FCC Wireless Interference Plan.) The Order also said the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology's "TVStudy" software would be used for coverage and interference analysis.

A staff summary of the Report and Order said, "Rather than merely attempting to preserve the same total population served by each station, all reasonable efforts will be made to preserve the same specific viewers it served as of Feb. 22, 2012."

The summary noted: "Channel assignments that, considered on a station-to-station basis, would reduce a station's population served by more than a de minimus (0.5 percent) amount will not be allowed."

A future proceeding will determine whether the repacking process should include a cap on aggregate interference to a broadcast station from other stations. However, depending on the settings and databases used in TVStudy, some stations could lose coverage or suffer more interference in the repacking than they would with the software and parameters the FCC previously used for TV coverage and interference studies.

The Report and Order identified which TV facilities would be protected in a repacking. These now include new full-power television stations that were authorized, but not constructed or licensed, as of Feb. 22, 2012; full power facilities authorized in construction permits issued to effectuate a channel substitution for a licensed station; modified facilities of full-power and Class A stations that were authorized by construction permits granted on or before April 5, 2013; and minor change facilities authorized to implement Class A station's mandated transition to digital operations.

The staff summary said that depending on the amount of spectrum repurposed through the incentive auction, a total of 14 to 28 MHz of guard band will be available for unlicensed use. TV Channel 37 will be opened to unlicensed use where it is not in use by incumbents. Any unlicensed operation on Channel 37 will have to protect the Radio Astronomy Service and the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service from interference.

The staff summary also stated: "The Commission anticipates that there will be at least one channel not assigned to a television station in all areas at the end of the repacking process, and the Commission intends, after additional notice and opportunity for public input, to designate one such channel in each area for shared use by wireless microphones and TVWS devices."

In the meeting, the FCC also adopted rules expanding Part 74 license eligibility to include professional sound companies and venues that routinely use 50 or more wireless microphones, where the use of wireless microphones is an integral part of the major productions or events they host. The FCC News Release said "The Commission concluded that these users generally have the same need for interference protection as existing Part 74 licensees and the sophisticated knowledge and capability to manage use and coordination of a large number of wireless microphones.

I’ll be providing more details and observations next week after reviewing the full text of the Report and Order.

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.