The FCC Friday essentially took its first big step down the road to reclaiming broadcast spectrum for wireless, outlining its regulatory framework for channel sharing by the TV stations that choose not to get out of the business, but agree to take one for the team, as it were, by reducing their spectrum allocations in exchange for part of the auction payout.
The vote was unanimous.
The FCC said Friday the keys to its framework are that it would be voluntary and flexible. Stations will not be forced to share, said the commission, and will have the flexibility to decide how they slice and dice a 6 MHz channel so long as each delivers at least one standard-definition digital primary channel.
Each of those primary channels will be subject to all FCC obligations, as well as must-carry rights.
The order clarifies that channel-sharing stations will have to provide coverage to the primary communities of license.
As previously reported, the item does not establish fixed or mobile co-primary rights in the TV band, deciding to punt that issue until it comes up with an auction framework.
The item also puts off for another day the issue of how to improve VHF transmissions.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC would continue to provide info on channel sharing, including a workshop scheduled for May 22.
In a press conference after the FCC public meeting at which the channel sharing framework was adopted, Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake clarified that that framework does not inlude a timetable for when broadcasters will have to start sharing or how the FCC will be informed of agreements they strike. He said that would come later in an auction-related item.
The channel sharing order will be out by May 22, an FCC staffers said, in time for that channel-sharing workshop.