A Marriage of Spectrum Convenience

Broadcast and wireless players share some common principles

Why This Matters

Points of Agreement

According to their joint letter, the National Association of Broadcasters and top wireless companies have agreed to the following principal goals of the FCC post-incentive auction band plan:

1. “Maximize the amount of auctioned spectrum (with a preference for paired) made available through the clearing process.”

2. “Avoid interference to and from licensed wireless and broadcasting services.”

3. “Enable device performance and size consistent with existing smartphones and tablets.”

After months of heated rhetoric as they battled
over their relative communications futures, broadcasters
and some wireless companies have now found
common ground in their quest for levels of spectrum auction
fairness. Somewhat ironically—given their continued desire to
keep their distance, at least in terms of spectrum allocations—
that agreement is on the FCC’s reverse incentive auctions.

In a joint letter to the FCC, the National Association of
Broadcasters and wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile
stated their agreement on common principles on a broadband
band plan. While the move came as a bit of a shock,
whispers of the bond had been growing louder of late.

For starters, the NAB had tapped Rick Kaplan, the former
chief of the FCC’s Wireless Bureau to be its point person on the
auctions. Kaplan signaled in a B&C interview last month that
his job, at the direction of NAB President Gordon Smith, was
to work constructively with the wireless industry.

Broadcasters fought the incentive auctions initially, but
after the handwriting was on the tablet, the NAB’s goal became
the most broadcaster-friendly auction possible, which
left open the possibility of cooperation wherever its interests
dovetailed with the wireless companies that would be sharing
the former broadcast band.

The first sign that the ice was breaking came back in November,
when the NAB and CTIA: The Wireless Association filed a
joint letter to the FCC asking for an extension of the comment
deadline on the auctions, pointing to industry discussions.

Kaplan told B&C that the two had actually found lots of
areas of agreement, which they wound
up outlining in the joint letter.

Chief among them was that the
FCC’s lead band plan proposal was off
base because it sandwiched broadcasters
in between wireless carriers’ uplink
and downlink spectrum—the so-called
“duplex gap”—and because it allowed
for the possibility that in, say, New
York, broadcasters could occupy channel
48, but wireless carriers could be
using the same channel in Philadelphia
for their hand sets and base stations.
That, declared both parties, could shut
wireless carriers out of some markets, or lead to interference.

During the run-up to passage of the incentive auction
legislation, the NAB charged that the spectrum “crisis” had
been manufactured by the wireless industry, while CTIA
shot back that broadcasters were getting desperate.

But even as the comments flew, both sides signaled that
shared incentive auction self-interest could trump the rhetoric.
In late 2011, they cosigned a letter opposing spectrum
fees as part of any auction plan.

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