FCC Authorizes TV Channel Sharing in Preparation for Spectrum Auctions
Originally posted on the Broadcast Law Blog.
The FCC has released the text of its Report and Order adopted last week, authorizing full power and Class A TV stations to share spectrum as part of the band clearing process for future wireless broadband spectrum auctions. This action was authorized by Congress in the Spectrum Act, which became law in February as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. We summarized the Spectrum Act in a previous blog available here.
The Report and Order allows full power and Class A TV stations to enter into agreements whereby two stations will share one six MHz channel, thereby allowing one station to return its existing channel to the FCC for cancellation and availability in the upcoming spectrum auctions. Presumably, one six MHz channel is sufficient bandwidth to support two HD channels. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for this proceeding, the FCC said it would let the sharing stations decide how much bandwidth each station would get.
The station giving up its channel would be entitled to compensation in the so-called "reverse auction" to be held by the FCC, subject to receipt of compensation deemed acceptable by the licensee. Presumably, that compensation would be shared with the station giving up part of its 6 MHz band to allow the two stations to share that bandwidth. The amount of compensation each station would get would likely be determined in their sharing agreement.
The Commission said it would allow channel sharing agreements to be entered into between all full power and Class A stations, even if one is commercial and the other noncommercial. The channel giving up its former frequency would not be considered a "multicast" channel. Each station would continue to operate under its own call sign and subject to all FCC rules applicable to stations generally.
Stations entering into channel sharing arrangements will continue to be entitled to both cable and DBS carriage, albeit from their new locations (assuming the two stations will operate from one location), subject to the usual conditions of availability, signal strength and market location. This could result in both gains and losses of carriage. Class A stations participating in channel sharing arrangements with full power stations will likely benefit from increased signal strength resulting in a larger viewing area.
Low power (LPTV) stations that are not operating as Class A stations cannot take advantage of this channel sharing arrangement and remain subject to displacement or worse if their particular bandwidth is needed. It remains to be seen whether and/or how LPTV stations will be protected going forward. Likewise, additional details of the Commission's spectrum clearing process, including potential repacking of frequencies, remain to be seen.