FCC Begins TV Spectrum Revamp

By a 5-0 vote, the commission sets in motion a three-part rulemaking looking to auction some TV spectrum, set up the sharing of a single 6 MHz channel by two or more stations and increase power for VHF stations, thereby freeing up UHF space for wireless broadband.

Convinced that more spectrum is needed to fuel the rapid growth of wireless broadband services, the FCC this morning launched a proceeding that could lead to the shift of more than a third of broadcast TV spectrum to wireless broadband use.

The rulemaking, adopted by a 5-0 vote at an open FCC meeting, proposes rules changes designed to help the FCC recover up to 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum so that it could be auctioned to wireless broadband users.

First floated last March as part of the FCC comprehensive National Broadband plan, the recovery plan calls for freeing up spectrum by repacking the broadcast spectrum — that is, by trimming the power and coverage of stations — and by encouraging stations to give up or share channels by entitling them to a share of auction proceeds.

The rulemaking does not propose a specific repacking scheme. Whether to allow the so-called incentive auctions is the prerogative of Congress.

Just prior to casting his vote, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski repeated his belief that finding more spectrum for broadband was critical. “If we don’t act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we are going to run into a wall — a spectrum crunch — that will stifle American innovation and economic growth and cost us the opportunity to lead the world in mobile communications.”

Genachowski said broadcasting is currently not using its spectrum efficiently. Some stations are “seizing the opportunities” afforded by digital transmission to offer multicast channels and mobile services, but others are not.


“We might think of the steady stream of broadcast TV transmissions as trains with a fixed number of box cars delivering digital content. But many of the box cars now are empty,” he said.

“The spectrum is too valuable and our spectrum needs too great for it to be used inefficiently in this manner, especially given that less than 10% of Americans receive broadcast television only through over-the-air spectrum signals,’’ Genachowski added.

Alan Stilwell, the FCC staffer who presented the rulemaking at the meeting, said it has three parts.

First, he said, it would set the stage for eventual auctioning of some broadcast spectrum by allowing fixed and land-mobile services in the TV band as co-primary users entitled to the same interference protection as broadcasters.

Second, he said, it proposes “a framework of rules” for encouraging two or more stations to share a single 6 MHz TV channel. “Under this framework, stations … would retain their rights to mandatory carriage on cable and DBS systems.

“The proposed sharing rules would neither increase nor decrease the carriage rights of any broadcaster on any type of multichannel distribution system,” he said.

Third, the proceeding would attempt to increase the utility of the VHF band for broadcasting, he said. “The goal is to resolve digital broadcast reception problems in the VHF band by increasing the maximum power by as much as 6 db and impose performance standards for VHF receive antennas.”

Stilwell said that the FCC is not trying to undermine broadcasting in the rulemaking. In fact, he said, the proceeding “takes an approach that will help preserve that service as a healthy, viable medium.”

Genachowski also said that it was not the FCC’s intention to marginalize broadcasting, noting that even if 120 MHz were taken from broadcasting, 300 MHz would still be left.

Genachowski said the rulemaking was reminiscent of the FCC’s action more than 20 years ago when it began the transition of broadcasting from analog to digital.

“We know it won’t be easy to free up spectrum for mobile broadband from the existing TV band. But it is essential that we move rapidly. We don’t have anywhere close to 20 years this time. We can’t afford to fall behind.”

Fellow Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps agreed with Genachowski that broadcasters have been underutilizing their digital spectrum.

“I am not interested in pushing broadcasters somewhere else or in discouraging their enhanced public interest stewardship of the airwaves. But the public interest in  multicasting remains all too often a concept and not a reality.

“Had this spectrum been put to such positive use, I would have little interest in contemplating other uses of it.”

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the FCC’s third Democrat, said she ”strongly supports” the more efficient use of broadcast spectrum, especially where it is “underutilized” and when broadcasters are willing to give it up on a “voluntary basis.”

But, she added, she wants the FCC to remember that it also has a “significant obligation to protect the important public interest that over-the-air broadcast TV provides for our nation.”

She said the commission should “carefully study the impact that removing broadcast spectrum could have on all consumers in local communities.” Most important, she said, the FCC must ”pay close, careful attention to those who are the most vulnerable.”

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, voted for the rulemaking, but said he would “remain mindful of the significant public interest benefits that broadcasters deliver.’’

Any rules allowing for more flexible uses within the TV band “must leave incumbent broadcast licensees with viable opportunities to experiment with their own mix of wireless services including, but not limited to, traditional broadcasting,” he said.

McDowell said he has not made up his mind as to whether channel sharing is the best possible option for getting the most out of the TV band.

He expressed concerns about the viability of the VHF band and said he wants the FCC to examine the issue carefully before moving any broadcasters back into the band.

And he said he wants the FCC to look into the alternative of allowing broadcasters to lease spectrum for wireless broadband purposes. “Now is the time to dig into this concept seriously.”

Commissioner Meredith Baker suggested that if the FCC is considering reallocating TV spectrum, it should also considers lightening broadcasting’s regulatory load.

”If the TV bands are to shift towards a more flexible spectrum model it is only right to ask whether those use restrictions should also be revisited.”

Comments (33)

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tom denman says:

November 30, 2010 at 11:47 am

On one hand the FCC needs to realize that the low VHF TV band is basically useless for DTV purposes. (Impulse noise) The thought of somehow revitalizing the low VHF band by allowing higher power operation doesn’t hold water. Secondly, I suppose in small struggling markets, the idea of two stations sharing one channel may have a certain amount of appeal by sharing the transmission costs, but medium or larger markets won’t bite because of competitive reasons.

douglas skene says:

November 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

First “sharing a channel” how can we do that I use ALL my DTV channel with three channels using every bit of my 19mb. Second what the heck “co-primary” so they get to bump all the LPTV’s that are secondary.

Jim Goodmon says:

November 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

Very few stations now only have one stream running, with some having three and even four. Strange how we are forced to go digital with HD and multi casting being the carrots and now they are proposing taking that incentive away. All we are left with is capital investments in the millions and for the most part, poorer reception by our viewers.

Dante Betteo says:

November 30, 2010 at 11:58 am

First I will wait to comment.

Christina Perez says:

November 30, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Repeating for the West Coast: The broadcast airwaves belong to the people. Under what doctrine can this FCC take those airwaves from the people and repack them to benefit one industry segment over another — to the detriment of the public interest? The broadcast community must mobilize public opinion to combat the INFORMATION FASCISM of the Genachowski broadband cabal. And Congress must open an investigation into the obvious conflict of interest questions surrounding the Genachowski broadband surrogates.

Teri Green says:

November 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm

The FCC needs to take this opportunity to redo everything, the way the did in the 50s, when the moved channels to correct allocations too close. By using computer technology, they should be able to go market by market and put as many channels as they can into one area. Since channels can be next to each other with digital (if they’re at the same antenna farm), the FCC should have everyone move channels and max out the number of channels per market. VHF is pretty useless in big cities with dense building. I live in Chicago and I can point my antenna directly at the Willis (Sears) Tower and get all the UHF but not VHF 12 (WBBM CBS). They should also do away with the virtual channel garbage. Too many tuners can’t cope correctly. For instance, WCPX is on virtual channel 38 and actual 43. WGBO is on virtual channel 66 and actual channel 38. (It had to use this channel as it’s DTV companion channel was out of core). Now if I type channel 38 half the time it comes up WCPX and half the time it comes up WGBO and then switches to virtual channel 66. Too many DTV tuners can’t cope. So this also needs to be addressed. So what if they have to rebrand, people aren’t stupid. Look at the affiliation switches of the 90s, people coped with it and they’ll cope with finding a new DTV channel.

    Joanne McDonald says:

    November 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    If the spectrum revamp was happening right now Chicago’s WBBM CBS would even be force to be on a competiting station like maybe WGN CW and CBS and CW and it’s local programming being on channel 9. WLS ABC would have to move back to channel 7 and WTTW PBS would have to move back to channel 11 and would have to share the channel with one or two of their competiting PBS stations in the entire Chicago TV market. Milwaukee would be force to have it’s WISN ABC station back on channel 12 and the city’s PBS stations would be on one channel on would have to settle on channel 10. It would mean no more channel 10 and channel 12 being as the digital channel for the stations in Chicago and be moved back to the stations originally assigned to the entire Milwaukee TV market . WISH CBS from Indy, Indiana, which is now on channel 9 would be force to move back to channel 8 to make room for WGN to move back to channel 9. WWMT CBS from Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is now on channel 8, would be force to move to the UHF band or maybe shared the channel with WOOD NBC from Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is now on channel 7 to broadcast on channel 8 to make room for WLS to move back to channel 7.

    The entire Chicago TV market is very much surrounded by other TV market from Milwaukee, Rockford, South Bend, Champaign-Urbana-Springfield, Indianapolis, Peoria, and Madison TV markets.

    I hope that all the TV stations that were on the VHF High Band on channel 7-13 that are now on the UHF Band to move back to the VHF High Band with power increases and possibly having all the UHF stations that were on channel 14-31 in the analog era to move back to those channels as well.

Warren Harmon says:

November 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm

This administration and the FCC have thier heads up thier Axxes!

Oh , excuse me, is that too non PC, we need to start telling it like it is, PC is how we got into this mess.

We are on the dangerous path to STATE TELECASTING by overwhelming regulation and disparagement of the commercial Television industry. These are our PUBLIC AIRWAYS, don’t you think the public wants to keep them? Where are the entitlement types, and the OBONGO HEALTHCARE disaster types now when we really face the possibility of loosing “FREE TV”? In my opinion, this corrupt administration wants to stamp out “FAIR and BALANCED broadcasting by driving us out of the business. Any body else feel the same?

mike tomasino says:

November 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, NTIA has identified 2080 MHz of spectrum, other than the 120 MHz that the FCC wants to take from broadcasting, that could be made available for mobile broadband within the next 10 years. 616 MHz of which is reserved for the federal government, and most, if not all, of which would be better suited to mobile than TV spectrum. Broadcasters, start fighting for yourselves and the American people!!!

    Ellen Samrock says:

    November 30, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Add to this the 547 MHz already allocated to broadband of which 377 MHz is warehoused and the fact that as wireless technology advances, spectrum becomes more efficiently used thereby reducing the need for additional spectrum and the FCC’s premise of a spectrum crisis vanishes.

    Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I don’t know if the broadcasters have that much fight in them. The airlines won’t fight the TSA … what are the indications that cable & satellite carriage won’t make big sticks obsolete? (I am implying an eventual linkage.)

    Personally, as a long-time techie, I’d hate to see it, but I was never in the check-writing department, so I have no feel for the business case. Is it ever good business to say goodbye to 10%+ of your audience, in exchange for eliminating the cost of the RF distribution?

    Another thing unknown to me: How much of a (typical) station’s cable/satellite carriage is facilitated by reception of their OTA broadcast? Not everybody has fiber from studio to all the cable headends. Can the Internet do it?

Janet Frankston Lorin says:

November 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Julius Genachowski is a liar. He has already forgotten the promised made only seven months ago at NAB.

Terry Gould says:

November 30, 2010 at 2:42 pm

“Genachowski also said that it was not the FCC’s intention to marginalize broadcasting, noting that even if 120 MHz were taken from broadcasting, 300 MHz would still be left”

How does this calculate??? I thought the FCC already took 120MHz as part of the digital conversion, which left 300MHz. .

Genachowski also said that it was not the FCC’s intention to marginalize broadcasting, noting that even if 120 MHz were taken from broadcasting, 300 MHz would still be left.

Genachowski also said that it was not the FCC’s intention to marginalize broadcasting, noting that even if 120 MHz were taken from broadcasting, 300 MHz would still be left.

    mike tomasino says:

    November 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    It must be Harvard math. And, for the record, TV broadcasting only has 296 MHz since channel 37 is reserved.

    mike tomasino says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Oops, my math isn’t all that great either. 300 – 6 = 294 not 296. So much for my University of Wyoming math. 😉

John Stelzer says:

November 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

300 MHz is the total bandwidth assigned to broadcast television today. VHF bands comprise 72 MHz. Channels 14-51 comprise 228 MHz. Take 120 MHz off the top to benefit wireless industries and 180 MHz is left. The FCC’s own analyses, though “incomplete”, demonstrate that it’s not possible to accommodate all existing stations within a 30-channel span in places like the northeast without doubling- or tripling-up. Though sharing channels might be attractive to some marginal stations doing specialized programming in standard definition only, there aren’t enough of them to realize the Omnibus Broadband Initiative staff’s goal. Doubling up HD on a single channel is impractical unless MPEG-2 is discarded as the compression technology, causing all existing STBs and receivers to become obsolete.

John Stelzer says:

November 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Oops, only 294 Mhz is available today, as channel 37 is assigned to radio astronomy. If you still give wireless 120 MHz, that leaves 174 MHz for broadcast.

    Terry Gould says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks, That’s what I thought. So is the FCC playing with a full deck here???

    mike tomasino says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Freudian slip? If you read more of what the Commissioners said you find that at least two of them aren’t completely on the Genachowski band wagon. They just didn’t vote no at this time.

    Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

    November 30, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Nobody ever accused lawyers of a fair deal or of knowing anything about math. You can be outraged or disgusted … just don’t act surprised. You do know why Genachowski has that job, don’t you?

Terry Gould says:

November 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm

You do know why Genachowski has that job, don’t you?
No. Why???

    Kimberly Gari-Luff says:

    November 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    He’s an Obama cohort from their days together at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Law Review. See
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Genachowski. His credentials do not appear to include any source of expertise related to the FCC. It’s a patronage job. He may be a decent paper pusher but that’s hardly enough expertise for someone in that job.

    I remember that the position of Postmaster General used to go to the President’s campaign manager every four years. The guy didn’t need to know which corner of the envelope gets the stamp; he just needed to be on the winning team. Same thing, I think.

Sue Brake says:

November 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

If you read my article published byTV Newscheck this morning (Nov. 30), you will hopefully agree that broadcasters can bring broadband to the public faster than anyone else, on a purely voluntary basis, and without giving up broadcast service. But the FCC has to practice what it preaches, unleash broadcasters from mandatory technical standards, and do it now. Local broadcasters are more likely than wireless carriers to meet local needs, provide local content, and create local jobs. If the Commission spent more time listening than advocating pre-conceived notions, they might come to understand that pre-conceptions make it difficult to fully appreciate all the possibilities.

Matthew Castonguay says:

November 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Peter, local broadcasters a/Don’t represent the immediate pot of gold for the federal treasury (you acknowledge that but I think fail to recognize it is a deal-breaker) and b/Don’t provide the opportunity to payback all Genachowski’s friends, who will proceed to transform all media into “paid media”, create a two-tier (have/have-not) media society, and feather the nest to which he and his cronies will ultimately return.

You might suppose a lot of this is the ideological opposite of what one would THINK this administration is after. But I kind of consider that the definition of liberalism/progressivism – policies that in practice tend to exaggerate and exacerbate the very problems they supposedly are trying to redress. I’ve just never really been clear on whether this is the result of outright maliciousness, or hubris-induced blindness.

NOTHING will stop these guys short of an Act of Congress…or possibly SCOTUS (if it gets to that point though most of the damage will already have been done).

mike tomasino says:

November 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Other than Genachowski’s comments, I was actually encouraged by the commissioners’ comments (i.e. Copps and McDowell). Did they vote for it? Yes, but neither seem to be sold on the Genachoski bulldozer. Their message to broadcasters was basically: “If you want to see this go away, use your full spectrum allotment.” I have to say then: “Use your full spectrum allotment. Encourage antenna use. Make this go away.”

    Christina Perez says:

    November 30, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Snap has a point. Many people do not realize they can get high def for free if they put up an antenna, even rabbit ears in many instances. Cable is churning like never before, due to the recession, and to availability of programming on the internet. If broadcasters got together with, say, Radio Shack and marketed “free HD,” OTA viewership would incease. Also, broadcasters should team with retailers to offer those OTA 7-inch and 4-inch hand-helds to viewers as deep-discounted items — to boost OTA viewership away from home, and to put a dent in the cellphone pay video market. It is my contention, however, that even without such promotion of OTA, the political climate in this nation will NEVER allow OTA free broadcasting to “go away.” But why take chances? Listen to Snap…

    mike tomasino says:

    November 30, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Antennas Direct has been partnering with local broadcasters to giveaway their Clearstream 2 antennas 300 to 400 at a time. One of my broadcast engineer contacts considers it to be one of the best antennas out there, especially for handling multi-path. Also, there is the Free TV Coalition at freetvcoalition.org

    Christina Perez says:

    November 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Thanks for that. This is the way to go. NAB, TVB, do you read? The reluctance to promote “free HD” leads me to wonder whether trade association officials have been “persuaded” to not talk about “free” anything… especially when many programmers, including some broadcast network executives, have made statements indicating their secret desire to see network TV go pay TV (Les Moonves comes to mind).

    mike tomasino says:

    December 1, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Let’s face it. If the broadcasting spectrum was to go away, networks wouldn’t need local broadcasters, they could sell direct to the cable system. But, as long as local broadcasters have spectrum the networks have to provide programming to the local broadcaster, because if they don’t, someone else will. Local broadcaster… Free TV is in your best interest!!!

    Kathy Soifer says:

    December 1, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    We prefer the ClearStream5â„¢ (HB VHF) over the ClearStream2â„¢ (UHF) here, being a HB station in a “mixed market.” I believe it’s pretty well accepted that HB antennas in general do far better at UHF than vice versa, and for near to middle distance viewers (for whom a mid-range antenna such as these is appropriate), HB reception is almost always the greater problem. Another big plus for the ClearStream5â„¢ is that it’s the most compact “electrically full size” HB gain antenna I know of, and it can even “fit” indoors for viewers who simply cannot have an outdoor antenna. A tad pricey, but well worth it in a lot of situations, IMHO.

Derwin Cox says:

December 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm

BEWARE – This move by the FCC has little or nothing to do with frequency spectrum scarcity – it is overtly POLITICAL. Note the urgency to dismantle the carefully designed
Note the usual rush

Derwin Cox says:

December 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm

BEWARE – This usual fast action by this administration to now dismantle the new carefully designed Digital Television Spectrum has more to do with this administrations POLITICS than spectrum scarcity! They haven’t yet completed the study of all available spectrum that is sitting useless, both by government allocations and/or other private concerns that have yet to develop their grants. As television broadcasters, we had better see that the new House members understand what is being attempted to marginalize free over-the-air television and reward private pay services that can ultimately be controlled as public utilities. We NEED to promote to our viewers the FREE High Definition availablility with simple antennas and the new broadcast local mobile news and weather services that will be difficult OR impossible with the irresponsible FCC dismanteling of Free Television. What took 20 years to bring about by careful planning could be destroyed by a totally incompetent band of radicals parading as public servants. If we dont use our freedom to protect our freedom and the TV spectrum.

Ben Gao says:

December 3, 2010 at 10:45 am

This is motivated by MONEY – there is NO DEMAND for this huge spectrum grab. It took forever to get 1080 HDTV, now they want to take it away already and go back to 480 feeds with horrible video artifacts with channel sharing!! We need ENGINEERS in the FCC, not lawyers who get daily lunches from their cellphone buddies who convince them that they need broadband (NOT FREE mind you) instead of FREE Over The Air TV. This really fries me, as the cellphone lobby had already paid, I mean lobbied, Congress to go along with this crap. Give the cellphone boys the LOW VHF band and let them play with that and then go home. Broadband is NOT efficective to reaching the masses like Broadcasting CAN and does. This is nothing more than a way to make more billionaires in the cellphone business. We finally got HDTV – NOW leave it alone!

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