FCC task force reports on TV spectrum repack

The FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force reported to the agency’s three sitting commissioners Aug. 9 during the commission’s monthly open meeting in Washington, D.C., on the status of the auction, particularly TV spectrum repacking.

Repacking the television spectrum with broadcasters choosing to remain on-air following the incentive auction is designed to free up contiguous blocks of spectrum for mobile broadband use. The auction is intended to incentivize some TV broadcasters to go dark or give up a portion of their spectrum by sharing with them a portion of the proceeds of the spectrum auction.

The task force presentation focused on the process, the methodology to be used to meet statutory requirements for preserving station coverage and population served, channel reassignment, reimbursement and other related issues.

One critical issue facing broadcasters, the wireless industry and the agency is how the FCC plans to meet its statutory obligation to preserve the coverage area of individual TV stations, as well as the populations each serves following the repack. The Spectrum Act that authorizes an incentive auction requires the FCC to “make all reasonable efforts” to preserve both population served and coverage.

During the presentation, the task force pointed out that the law requires the agency to use “the methodology described in OET (Office of Engineering and Technology) Bulletin 69” to determine both population and coverage. That methodology, the Longley-Rice propagation model, is at the core of the FCC’s new TVStudy software, which employs improved datasets that were not available when the model was initially rolled out and later updated, according to the presentation. The new software “provides more accurate and efficient modeling and analysis” data, an important part of making the auction a success, according to the task force.

Updates include terrain data that is three times more granular, thus more accurate; actual antenna beam tilt data; a corrected calculation of depression angle that uses proper antenna height parameters and a “universal cell/grid” needed to make station-to-station, “pairwise,” interference calculations, which are necessary for repacking.

The task force also illustrated an example of a hypothetical station’s “domain file,” which provides a list of channels it could be assigned to during the incentive auction process, as well as an “interference-paired file” listing other stations that cannot be assigned to the same channel nor to one adjacent channel up or down the dial.

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai called on broadcasters to support the TVStudy software, in a statement released on the agency website. He said broadcasters also should be receptive to use of new census data in the software. Wireless carriers, he said, “should focus on the important changes that need to be made to the software for it to work, instead of every change that could be made.”

“Debating each minor update to the software won’t serve anyone well, and we certainly don’t want this project to end up in court,” he said.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for development of a channel-sharing pilot project prior to the auction involving either commercial or noncommercial stations in her statement on the task force. “Let us demonstrate upfront that sharing is truly viable,” she said.

FCC acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn commended the task force for seeking “extensive input from interested parties and the public” and said she has directed it to continue conducting workshops.