A divided FCC has proposed that one UHF channel be set aside in each market after the incentive auction for use by so-called unlicensed white space devices, and to be shared by wireless microphones. That use would have priority over various broadcast uses, which troubled the National Association of Broadcasters.
Broadcasters had pushed for a channel for wireless mics they would not have to share.
The three Democrats voted to approve, while Republican Ajit Pai dissented, and fellow Republican Michael O'Rielly dissented in part.
Low-power TV stations, translators and broadcast auxiliary services, and even full-powers in some cases, will have to demonstrate that their repacked or modified facilities after the auction would not use up the last available vacant channel.
It is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, not an order, so the public and industry get to comment on the proposal.
But comments were already coming in, starting with Commissioner Pai.
"[T]he Commission, on a partisan basis, is using the incentive auction proceeding to dole out regulatory presents to favored companies and industries while leaving others worse off." Google, for example, has been a big proponent of freeing up spectrum for unlicensed devices. "When it comes to the repacked UHF broadcast television band, full-power television stations should receive top priority," said Pai. "Up until this Notice, I wouldn’t have thought that this proposition would have been controversial. After all, the band will be primarily allocated for broadcast television. But today’s Notice suggests a switcheroo, giving unlicensed white space devices priority over full-power television stations in some circumstances."
The National Association of Broadcasters was not pleased. "NAB is reviewing this proposal and will participate actively on this issue," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "For those concerned with localism and diversity of public airwaves, the prospect of elevating unlicensed users of spectrum over licensed broadcasters in the television broadcast band should cause grave concern. This appears to be contrary to the Spectrum Act, the FCC's own rules, and sound public policy."
NAB has already said the FCC's database for identifying where there are vacant channels for those so-called TV "white spaces" devices to operate in remains fundamentally flawed and incapable of working as currently constituted, another reason it is not happy with the decision.
Back in March, NAB petitioned the FCC to suspend use of the database saying it allowed false and damaging information to be entered into it.
NAB concedes that some improvements have been made since, particularly after press attention to the issue, but not nearly enough.