On January 12, OTI filed comments on the Commission’s rules to establish rules for digital low power television (LPTV) and television translator stations, and spectrum incentive auctions.
Broadcast station repacking and relocation will have an enormous impact on the future of the unlicensed economy, since it will largely determine whether the Commission preserves sufficient access to unlicensed spectrum in every market nationwide. Optimizing the remaining unused TV spectrum is critical to facilitating both national markets for personal/portable unlicensed devices and the higher-power, fixed wireless broadband services that are so critical to rural and other underserved communities. The specific channels that the Commission assigns (or chooses not to assign) in the post-auction repacking and reassignment process will shape TV band spectrum efficiency and determine whether there is a robust future for unlicensed broadband in this uniquely valuable low-band spectrum. It is critical that the Commission not only finds workable channels for LPTV and translator stations that are actively broadcasting a service to their community, but also makes these channel reassignments in a way that maximizes the number of useable white space channels available for unlicensed use, with as many consecutive white space channels as possible to facilitate rural broadband (since fixed wireless services can operate only on the middle of three consecutive white space channels). OTI/PK strongly support the Commission’s conclusion in the incentive auction Report and Order that it will “permit TVWS devices to operate on all other available channels in those portions of the UHF band that remain allocated and assigned only to broadcast services.” Secondary broadcast licensees (LPTV, translator and booster stations) that are not eligible to participate in the incentive auction serve many fewer people than do full power and Class A stations that are eligible, even though there are more than twice as many. And although they typically use only 1 or 2 MHz of actual capacity to broadcast a standard definition stream of content they will, under the current rules, continue to occupy a full 6 MHz channel of TV band spectrum. In many cases this will serve the public interest well since, as the NPRM correctly observed, low power television stations “are a source of diverse and local television programming, and television translator stations are an important free, over-the-air resource in rural and remote locations.”
At the same time, there are more than 1,700 LPTV operators occupying channels with Construction Permits that may never provide a substantial free over-the-air broadcast service to their communities; and there are LPTV licensees still broadcasting in analog format that will not in the end make the digital TV transition, or which are occupying far more spectrum capacity than they actually need to fulfill their mission – and, cumulatively, blocking access to fallow spectrum that could be accessible to everyone in these same communities for unlicensed use. OTI/PK therefore finds it disappointing that the Commission has no explicit discussion or proposal in this Third NPRM intended to ensure that fallow spectrum blocked off by secondary broadcast licensees will be made available for unlicensed use on a contingent, day-to-day basis by the FCC-authorized TV Bands Databases until such time as licensees are actively broadcasting a service to their community.
In sum, OTI/PK urge the Commission to achieve a more balanced and spectrum efficient outcome by adopting three policies as part of this rulemaking and the related Incentive Auction NPRM concerning Part 15 operations:
First, OTI/PK urge the Commission, wherever feasible, to optimize the repacking and channel relocation process – particularly with respect to the reassignment of LPTV and TV translator stations – to create a contiguous block of white space spectrum that facilitate higher power fixed use for rural broadband and other purposes that serve the public interest.
Second, OTI/PK urge the Commission to ensure that a channel occupied by a nonoperational LPTV or TV translator station (licensees and construction permits) will be made available for unlicensed use through the FCC-authorized TV Bands Database system. As part of this Order, the Commission should obligate secondary broadcast operators to affirmatively report timely updates on their actual operations – either to the Commission or directly to a TVDB – so that unused spectrum is made available for public use in a timely manner.
Third, OTI/PK strongly support channel sharing, but believe it need not always be voluntary. Where fallow capacity can be freed up – or where an operational LPTV station can be accommodated rather than left off the air – mandatory channel sharing, or at least strong incentives for channel sharing, should be an option. This should be particularly true for unbuilt stations (CPs) that can far more easily arrange their construction on a shared basis – and quite possibly save operating expense in addition to saving the public lost low-band communications capacity.