Skip to main content

FCC Receives 80 Incentive Spectrum Auction Reply Comments

Doug Lung

As reported previously, the FCC extended its deadline for Reply Comments in connection with its Oct. 2, 2012 “Expanding the Economic and Innovation Opportunities of Spectrum Through Incentive Auctions” NPRM (FCC Proceeding 12-268) until March 12. When the extended window closed last week, the FCC's Electronic Comment Filing System showed a total of 80 Reply Comments and Replies received.

I've viewed fillings from broadcasters and broadcast organizations, major wireless carriers and their manufacturers and associations, and numerous users of unlicensed devices and the organizations and companies that support their use of wireless microphones, medical devices and white space broadband devices in the TV bands, and except for no obvious support for the FCC's split band approach and general support for a “51 down” signal band approach, I found little agreement among these three categories. Even within the categories there was little agreement--white space proponents were against wireless microphone companies and wireless microphone users' comments, for example.

Even in the wireless broadband category, there was disagreement over use of the duplex gap for unlicensed services: Qualcomm against it, AT&T and Verizon okay with it if it doesn't create interference and accepts interference to and from licensed uses.

Outside of broadcasters, broadcast organizations, and a fair number of individual filers, there was little support for protection of off-air TV. Whether interested in the spectrum for wireless broadband or unlicensed devices, many of the reply comments rejected the broadcasters’ argument for protection of service to existing viewers, saying that the FCC's priority in the Incentive Auction and repacking should be to provide as much spectrum as possible for wireless broadband, licensed or unlicensed (depending on the commenter).

The Reply Comments of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association urged the FCC to allow opportunistic use of Channel 37 using the TV band databases to protect Radio Astronomy or wireless medical telemetry systems from interference, eliminate the exclusive two-channel reservation for wireless microphones (a position supported by other TV white space proponents such as Google) and to allow wireless microphone users to reserve only spectrum they plan to use, not a full 6 MHz channel.

WISPA also urged the FCC to encourage, if not require, channel sharing for secondary TV stations and enforce existing rules to ensure non-operating stations do not remain in the TV bands database. Any auctioned, but unused, spectrum should also be open for use by wireless Internet service providers. WISPA supported the WhiteSpace Alliance (WSA) proposal to reduce the adjacent channel protection to TV stations from 6 MHz to 3 MHz, thus preserving fixed white space deployment where only two contiguous TV channels remained after repacking.

Google's Reply Comments were similar to those from WISPA, but Google also said that in repacking, the Commission should give weight to unlicensed use of white spaces by repacking stations above TV Channel 20 in “a manner that permits as much contiguous white space as possible.” It also suggested not compensating broadcasters for reducing coverage areas or accepting additional interference, not expanding protections (in regards to white space operations) appropriate to full-power and Class A stations to low-power stations, and using the same calculation models for television broadcast coverage rules and TV white space rules. The latter proposal would effectively eliminate blanket protection inside TV stations' contours and instead base interference and white space availability on the terrain sensitive Longley-Rice model.

It wasn't unexpected that the Reply Comments of the Consumer Electronics Association were among the most “anti-broadcast”. CEA argues that the record in the Proceeding and the law support its position that the Spectrum Act does not require the Commission to replicate coverage areas and population service and that it “unambiguously establishes a repacking standard that is more flexible than the DTV Replication approach.” The CEA added:

“Even if the Spectrum Act were ambiguous, the Commission's interpretation is both permissible and persuasive because it comports with the text and intent of the Statute” and that “a strict replication-based standard would hinder the Commission in achieving the goals of the Spectrum Act.”

The CEA said the FCC should not allow the controversy over the software implementation OET-69, which has been criticized by NAB, to “delay progress toward the Incentive auction.” CEA stated, “Contrary to NAB's assertions, the Public Notice does not propose any changes to the methodology of OET-69; it merely describes and seeks public comment on updates and improvements to the tools that the Commission uses to implement that methodology.”

These positions are refuted in the Reply Comments of the National Association of Broadcasters and several station groups and broadcaster organizations. A key point is that “The Spectrum Act authorizes a market-based auction process, not a wholesale reallocation as some commenters suggest.” Since this is a voluntary auction, broadcasters who decide not to participate should be held harmless, which means the relocation fund should cover all reasonable broadcaster and MPVD channel change costs, every reasonable effort must be made to preserve a stations coverage and the people it services, and “the Commission should continue to improve television service where necessary up to and until the incentive auction and respect those improvements during a repacking.”

Several TV station owners filed comments and reply comments showing how limiting protection to the Feb. 22, 2012 date the Spectrum Act was signed would hurt their ability to continue to serve people currently receiving their signals. The NAB reply comments list several of them. NAB also agrees with the National Translator association that protection of coverage from translators is necessary to preserve service to the viewers of full-power TV stations.

The Reply Comments of the National Translator Association support comments from the Association of Public Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Public Broadcasting service that translator coverage must be taken into account under this mandate. NTA notes that in not every instance are translators merely filling in a “protected contour”. NTA asserts, “As we said initially, coverage area and population served by a station through a translator is just as much a part of the coverage and population as what is provided by the direct primary signal. A correct reading of the statute would hold that it requires that all primary TV service provided by existing TV translators, as of the date of the law, be preserved.”

NTA also highlights comments from network affiliates on that note that replacement digital television translators were “created for the specific purpose of assuring against losses of service within a station's protected contour as the result of the DTV transition. The extinguishment of any of these stations cannot be reconciled with the statutory goals of preserving area and population.”

The Reply Comments of Mark J. Columbo, Owner of propose, among other things such as devoting TV Channels 2 to 6 for a new digital-only radio service, that the Commission, instead of spending money to relocate stations using the current ATSC standard, …should use the repack as an opportunity to upgrade to the ATSC 3.0 standard.” He continued:

“At last year's National Religious Broadcasters' convention, Mark Aitken of Sinclair gave a presentation about the ATSC 3.0 standard, which would finally put the [United States] on a digital television standard that uses the most modern technologies, including HEVC for video and new modulation schemes that increase the bandwidth available on a given channel. According to Mr. Aitken, it is projected that ATSC 3.0 could allow up to 8 HD video streams on a single transmitter. By moving to ATSC 3.0, the Commission could require spectrum sharing among two licensed stations while still expanding the television service.”

Columbo provided this example, “ the Washington, DC metro area, WTTG and WDCA are commonly owned by Fox Television Stations, and could be operated on a single channel with ATSC 3.0. WRC and WZDC-CD could negotiate to share a channel, since Telemundo programming run on WZDC-CD is provided by NBC. This would allow the FCC to shrink the band into the Channel 7-36 range that some groups, such as the Mexican government, are encouraging, while paying out a minimal amount of spectrum auction funds to broadcasters.”

I would expect most broadcasters to reject this proposal, at least as long as there is any opportunity to maintain their 6 MHz channels, which would be needed to provide off-air UHDTV (4K) content, as was demonstrated at CES and will be demonstrated at NAB.

In the Sinclair Reply Comments, there is no mention of mandatory channel sharing as suggested by Mark Columbo. Sinclair does, however, suggest that the Commission should take this opportunity to transition to a new TV broadcast standard. Sinclair notes:

“Beyond repacking, the post-auction band plan must recognize that the technical platform that provides broadcast service can and must evolve over time to provide better service to consumers, and it should anticipate and accommodate that service evolution. Future transitions to support new technical platforms will be more challenging still, with even less spectrum available in the broadcast service.”

Sinclair quotes comments from Sony and the International Broadcasting Network to support this position. Sinclair also quotes comments from Oded Bendov that argue the FCC should “encoura[ge] DTV stations to experiment with new modulation/compression formats and impose receiver standards, both as basic elements of an appropriate, modern television broadcast service.”

In support of its position that broadcasters should be allowed flexible use of their spectrum, Sinclair stated:

“Neither the FCC nor incumbent carriers should fear that broadcasters will attempt to compete in mass to provide predominantly non-broadcast services. Sinclair has undertaken extensive modeling and believes that a properly deregulated television broadcast service would provide far greater public benefits and economic returns per allocated megahertz of spectrum than would use of broadcast allocations to provide a competing broadband service. Again, America deserves a variety of advanced digital services efficiently provided by a mix of appropriate technical platforms by licensees that are permitted to respond to market demands.”

I've only covered a fraction of the reply comments filed in this proceeding. From this brief summary, you can see the FCC can find support for any position it takes on protection of broadcast TV and allocation of the auction spectrum, with the possible exception of its split-band approach. It also shows that whatever position the FCC takes in the setting rules for the incentive auction and repacking, there will be opposition.

You can review all of the comments and reply comments in this proceeding on the Electronic Comment Filing System – Proceeding 12-268.

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.