Wireless Bureau Seeks Input on Auction Band Plan

Group Suggests Broadcast/Wireless Proposal is Insufficiently Flexible, but Seeks Comment on Some Variants

The FCC's Wireless Bureau late Friday put out a public notice seeking input on band plans for the commission's melding of TV station and wireless band users following its incentive auctions, but it also took aim at the so-called "down from 51" proposal offered up by broadcasters and wireless companies in tandem.

The notice came out only hours before FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was scheduled to exit the commission. It is not unusual for there to be several items released on a chairman's last day.

The notice expresses interest in hearing about all the proposals, but also points to the issues it has with the broadcasters/wireless companies' suggestion, saying that it limits market variation and favor's certainty "over the utility of providing the maximum amount of spectrum through flexibility to offer a greater quantity of spectrum in geographic areas where more spectrum is available." 

Broadcasters and cable operators don't want the FCC to mix uplink and downlink spectrum, want guard bands free of interference and don't want broadcasters and wireless companies to use the same channels in different markets.

"Most of these proposals are targeted at repurposing a specific amount of paired spectrum nationwide," the FCC said of the "down from 51" variations, "and provide limited options for how to offer less spectrum in constrained markets, or additional spectrum in individual markets, and only under certain scenarios."

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai was none too pleased with the notice, on which he said he had not been consulted and had not seen until 48 hours before.

Pai said he thought the item had "substantive and procedural infirmities that I fear will lead the incentive auction rulemaking astray. The record contains overwhelming support for a band plan that starts at Channel 51 with uplink, that does not contemplate broadcast operations in the duplex gap, and that accommodates frequency-division duplexing." That would be the one broadcasters and wireless operators offered up as an alternative to the FCC's initial proposal, which neither liked.

He pointed out that the FCC notice instead of seeking more input on that consensus broadcast/wireless plan, instead seeks input on a variety of other options for which there is "little or no support."

Pai called the notice "tilting at windmills. If the Commission still aims to hold the incentive auction in 2014, we have neither the time nor the resources to focus on band plans that we are highly unlikely to ever adopt," he said,

He said that, in any event, the notice should have come from the commission, not the bureau: "The Bureau should not seek comment on new 600 MHz band plans on delegated authority. The Public Notice presents several novel questions of policy, novel enough that I had not even seen most of the band plans contained therein until 48 hours ago.7 This is precisely the sort of decision that the full Commission should make."Any short-term administrative convenience gained by this course of action is outweighed by the sacrifice of Commissioners’ input and accountability."