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Sinclair Says It Could Be Buyer in Spectrum Auctions

But Only If FCC Gets Band Plan Right 6/17/2013 10:48 AM Eastern
 

Sinclair would be a buyer in the broadcast spectrum incentive auctions if the FCC would allow for higher-power wireless licenses it says could be used to deliver advanced wireless services.

In a filing at the FCC, the broadcaster said that the commission should allow for higher-power wireless licenses in at least half of the spectrum reclaimed from broadcasters in a reverse spectrum auction. And though Sinclair has said it has no plans to sell its TV spectrum in that auction, it suggests it could be a buyer in the forward auction if the FCC gets the band plan right.

Sinclair would be prepared to bid aggressively on 50 kW TDD (Time Division Duplex) licenses (the higher-powered wireless licenses) divided into economic areas or, similarly, granular geographic sizes, and to deploy new and innovative services that would expand the wireless ecosystem.

Sinclair does not have a lot of good things to say about the FCC's variable band plan or its variants, which the FCC put out for comment in May.

In its comments on the plans -- which were due June 14 -- Sinclair said that the FCC's approach of mixing broadcasters and wireless operations in a post-auction band-repacking plan, rather than separating them, would result in "more complex and expensive handsets, less rational network designs, dilution average of MHz/pop valuations [devalued broadcast spectrum in terms of auction pricing], unpredictable and undesired interference environments, costly repacking of broadcast stations that otherwise could be left intact and elimination of hundreds or thousands of low-power stations and translators in areas where it is universally acknowledged there is no shortage of spectrum for mobile broadband."

The FCC has said its plan allows for more market variability, but Sinclair argued that if the FCC wants more flexibility, it should do so through "narrow, targeted exceptions," and only where those would increase the amount of spectrum available in the most densely populated areas where the FCC actually needs it. "Any other approach would reflect a policy that encourages and even mandates fundamentally inefficient use of spectrum for decades to come," Sinclair said. "By trying to engineer an auction to reclaim spectrum where it is not needed and cannot be efficiently used, the FCC squanders the opportunity to create a far more rational and efficient band plan that will entice more participants to submit higher bids in the forward auction."

While the FCC initially talked about reclaiming as much as 120 MHz, that figure has looked increasingly unlikely given spectrum coordination issues with Canada and Mexico. Sinclair suggested that, as a practical matter, 120 MHz can't be reclaimed in the largest markets where demand is arguably greatest -- it does not concede there is necessarily a spectrum crunch -- or in areas along the border.

"By trying to engineer an auction to reclaim spectrum where it is not needed and cannot be efficiently used, the FCC squanders the opportunity to create a far more rational and efficient band plan that will entice more participants to submit higher bids in the forward auction," Sinclair said.

It says a "Down from 51" plan, which some wireless carriers and the National Association of Broadcasters have endorsed, that separates uplink and downlink spectrum and can free up as much as 84MHz in a uniform band plan, is the best approach.

The FCC has signaled that it is still on track to come up with a final proposal by year-end.