No Surprises at FCC Channel Sharing Workshop

The FCC held a Channel Sharing Workshop Tuesday to discuss broadcasters' options for sharing spectrum. While I wasn't able to listen to the live webcast of the event, I watched a recording of it on the FCC website. Participants included Bill Lake, Chief of the FCC's Media Bureau, and panelists John Cunny, head ofTelecom Media Technology Practice at Santander; Eric De Silva, a partner at Wiley Rein; John Hane, counsel with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman; and Lonna Thomson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Association of Public Television Stations. The Workshop was moderated by Rebecca Hanson from the FCC’s Media Bureau.

The FCC participants were careful not to make any statements beyond repeating what was previously covered in the Spectrum SharingReport and Order (FCC 12-45). In response to a question about how channel sharing could impact cable carriage requirements, there was a discussion about whether a station giving up its channel and sharing with another station with greater coverage could claim cable carriage on systems it didn't reach before. It was concluded that while eligibility would be based on their original license--not the coverage of the station whose transmitter they were sharing--the increased coverage of the new facility would be considered the same as using alternative means such as fiber or microwave to provide a quality signal to the cable head.

The FCC staff deferred questions on the incentive auctions and repacking, stating these would be covered in future Commission actions, likely before the end of the year. The panel attempted to clear up some confusion about the incentive auctions. In response to a question about what would happen to TV stations above Channel 30, it was made clear that the authority given the FCC by Congress did not give that organization authority to auction a specific amount of broadcast spectrum. The amount of spectrum auctioned will depend on the number of stations that decide to give up or share their channels.

There was also a comment about some channels being more valuable than others in the auction process. It was concluded that while there may be different values for broadcast use of the channels due to their coverage, there was no difference invalue for auction purposes. As an example, while it may appear that Channel 50 would be more attractive to a wireless carrier than Channel 20, a station holding a license for Channel 50 shouldn't expect to receive more money for its spectrum in an auction. This is because if the station holding Channel 20 offered its spectrum for auction at a lower price, the FCC could take it and repack the Channel 50 station onto Channel 20, covering the costs with the proceeds from the auction. 

While there were few discussions about the technical complexities of channel sharing, much of the workshop was devoted to the legal issues around channel sharing, including a scenario where the station owning the transmitter and antenna later decides it wants to sell its facility.

The attorneys on the panel provided some good advice for stations looking to enter into channel sharing agreements. If this is something your station is thinking about, viewing the video of the workshop will provide some important items for consideration.

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.