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FCC searches for a Band Plan that supports the public interest

Ruth Milkman, chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, says there are more than a dozen proposed band plans before the FCC, and a consensus between parties has not been reached. 

“While some differ substantially, many seem at a high level to be quite similar — and without close review may even give the misleading impression that a ‘consensus’ has in fact been reached,” Milkman wrote in an FCC blog. “But we all know that the devil is in the details, and in reality, the proposed plans are dissimilar in notable respects.”

She noted that a number of commenters, including the NAB, support band plans that are in the “Down from 51” family. “But some plans would limit paired licensed spectrum to 50 MHz, while others call for a larger number of paired bands

Some plans accommodate market variation by including television stations in the duplex gap in limited areas, while others say there should be no market variation at all,” Milkman wrote. 

In its related NPRM, the FCC said the ability to accommodate market variation is an important objective. “We particularly appreciate the commenters that have given thought to what we should do in markets where small amounts of spectrum — potentially significantly less than the amount cleared in most of the nation — are cleared for auction,” she wrote. “By implementing a band plan that supports variation between markets, we would not be forced to limit the auction to the amount of spectrum available in the least cleared markets.”

Referring to an FCC chart, Milkman said “we’re looking for a consistent amount of spectrum in the vast majority of the country — there may be less in constrained markets, but we aren’t contemplating clearing more in rural markets. Were we to implement a plan that does not accommodate market variation, we could be forced to limit the spectrum available in all markets to the relatively small amount available in the most constrained market.”

That, she said, would not be good. “Consumers in all the other markets across the country would then be deprived of access to spectrum that could have been repurposed for mobile broadband,” she said. “There would also be less money going to the U.S. Treasury and to FirstNet, the planned mobile broadband network for emergency responders. In the worst case, the auction might not close because there would be insufficient funds to pay broadcasters to relocate or give up spectrum rights.”

This, said Milkman, would not be an acceptable result. “So we are studying all of the band plans — and looking at the details — to ensure the incentive auction will be a success: with the maximum spectrum made available to meet the growing needs of consumers and enough funds to meet the objectives set by Congress,” she said.