The recent payroll tax cut compromise included authorization for the FCC to begin the process of auctioning off broadcast TV spectrum, although with several significant changes that should limit the plan to gut local TV broadcast options (for details on the initial plan, see here or here).The specifics of the legislation provide local broadcast TV with several protections. First, it provides that the FCC make "all reasonable efforts" to assure that broadcasters maintain their current coverage areas. Second, stations must "volunteer" to move or otherwise relinquish spectrum, and the legislation sets aside funds from the auction to compensate broadcasters and local cable operators for costs associated with channel moves and the repacking of the TV band.
Besides authorizing the incentive auctions, which are estimated to raise some $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury, the legislation supports the build-out of a nationwide interoperable broadband network, reallocates the D-Block combined with other public safety spectrum to created 20MHz of contiguous spectrum for a wireless broadband and authorizes the FCC to optimize TV white spaces for unlicensed use by consolidating them and creates nationwide guard bands for use by unlicensed devices.As compromises go, it's not too unreasonable, I guess.
While the idea of re-evaluating spectrum use is worthy, I remain skeptical about claims that "viewers who rely on off-air reception will not lose access to signals," and the estimates of the size and immediacy of revenue generation (given excess capacity for wireless broadband existing in other bands, the reservation of a large portion for community emergency services use, the delays resulting from the "voluntary nature" of participation and the need to ensure that coverage areas would be maintained, and a growing history of spectrum auctions failing to achieve promised revenues goals). I do find it a bit troubling that in all the negotiations, the "little guy" TV broadcasters - Low Power (LPTV) and translator operators that tend to serve smaller and minority audiences, and are often noncommercial - are overlooked. Whether there will be any space left available to these after consolidation is unclear, and the language about white space consolidation seems focused towards other types of frequency use. I am also disappointed with the underlying implication behind this level of cutting and "repacking" TV broadcast allocations - that there is no need for keeping some additional spectrum in reserve for future growth or innovation in TV broadcasting.
It may be time for requestioning whether policy is supposed to serve the public interest, or to choose who wins, and who loses? These days, it seems more the latter.
Source: Congress authorizes voluntary incentive auctions of TV spectrum, Broadcast Engineering.