FCC Sees 'Opportunities' In Reclaiming Broadcast Spectrum


There may be opportunities for broadcasters to share 6 MHz channels in a market "without significantly disrupting the free-over-the-air television service consumers enjoy today," the Federal Communications Commission said. But the commission conceded that such sharing of capacity would affect "the number and type of signals" each could broadcast.

That word came from the FCC Wednesday as it took the next official step in its inquiry into reclaiming broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband.

The request for comment asks about the benefits of using spectrum for over-the-air broadcast vs. for wireless broadband services, including the impact on jobs, consumer welfare, "innovation and other indicators of global leadership."

Among the scenarios it considers are what the impact on the economy and public welfare would be if free-over-the-air coverage was "diminished to accommodate a repacking of stations to recover spectrum."

The FCC wants to know specifics, like how broadcasters use their spectrum allocations for HD, multicast and more (the more would include mobile TV), what the business rationalization is behind that use, and how broadcasters plan to use the spectrum in the future.

Commenters will have until Dec. 21 to weigh in.

FCC chairman Julius Genachoski has been talking up the need for spectrum at every opportunity recently, including at a Dec. 1 conference in Washington. He also told a CNBC audience the same day that, while three times the current wireless allocation is being freed up, a 30-fold increase is expected to meet the demands for all the new applications out there or on the drawing board. Genachowski has billed wireless broadband as a key to the FCC's national broadband rollout strategy, due to Congress Feb. 17.

The FCC has said it will look beyond broadcast for new spectrum, including more efficient use of current spectrum allocations. But broadcast spectrum is considered beachfront property for wireless broadband because of its propagation characteristics, and the request for comment is focused on the broadcast band.

That request for comment follows up on informal discussions between broadband adviser Blair Levin and broadcasters, Wall Street and others about scenarios in which broadcast spectrum could be recovered and re-used to meet the demands of wireless. Levin is responsible for overseeing the national rollout plan.

The National Association of Broadcasters has not dismissed spectrum reclamation discussions out of hand, but has indicated broadcasters need their spectrum for HD, multicast channels and mobile TV.