FCC Sees 'Opportunities' In Reclaiming Broadcast Spectrum

Says broadcasters might be able to share 6 MHz channels in a market without significant disruption of over-the-air service

There may be opportunities for broadcasters to share 6 MHz
channels in a market "without significantly disrupting the
free-over-the-air television service consumers enjoy today," the FCC said Dec.
2. But the commission conceded that such sharing of capacity would affect
"the number and type of signals" each could broadcast.

That word came from the FCC Wednesday as it took the next
official step in its inquiry into reclaiming broadcast spectrum for wireless

The request for comment asks about the benefits of using
spectrum for over-the-air broadcast vs. for wireless broadband services,
including the impact on jobs, consumer welfare, "innovation and other
indicators of global leadership."

Among the scenarios it considers are what the impact on the
economy and public welfare would be if free-over-the-air coverage was "diminished
to accommodate a repacking of stations to recover spectrum."

The FCC wants to know specifics, like how broadcasters use
their spectrum allocations for HD, multicast and more (the more would include
mobile TV), what the business rationalization is behind that use, and how
broadcasters plan to use the spectrum in the future.

Commenters will have until Dec. 21 to weigh in.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachoski has been talking up the need
for spectrum at every opportunity recently, including at a Dec.
1 conference in Washington
. He also told a CNBC audience the same day that,
while three times the current wireless allocation is being freed up, a 30-fold
increase is expected to meet the demands for all the new applications out there
or on the drawing board. Genachowski has billed wireless broadband as a key to
the FCC's national broadband rollout strategy, due to Congress Feb. 17.

The FCC has said it will look beyond broadcast for new
spectrum, including more efficient use of current spectrum allocations. But
broadcast spectrum is considered beachfront property for wireless broadband
because of its propagation characteristics, and the request for comment is
focused on the broadcast band.

That request for comment follows up on informal discussions
between broadband adviser Blair Levin and broadcasters, Wall Street and others
about scenarios in which broadcast spectrum could be recovered and re-used to
meet the demands of wireless. Levin is responsible for overseeing the national
rollout plan.

The National Association of Broadcasters has not dismissed
spectrum reclamation discussions out of hand, but has indicated broadcasters
need their spectrum for HD, multicast channels and mobile TV.

"The FCC is displaying significant courage and foresight in asking about the future of the broadcast spectrum," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn in response to the FCC request for comment. "This issue traditionally has not been open for public discussion, and we are pleased to see that it is now part of the broadband agenda."