Why This Matters
There has been a lot of talk lately about such things as repacking and guard bands, the duplex gap and the Roswellian-sounding OET-69; they’re part of the newly spotlighted vocab used by the FCC as it figures out how to fit broadcasters and wireless firms into the same spectrum block after the broadcast incentive auctions. Understanding the terminology can be a challenge, but it’s becoming de rigueur both in Washington policy circles and in talks with network engineers. How the FCC defines and applies those terms and others will be key to the broadcasting industry’s future.
The FCC has collected comments from both sides on how it should restructure the 600 MHz band, where broadcasters and cellphone companies will operate side by side after the spectrum auction. Acting FCC chair Mignon Clyburn has signaled the agency still plans to come out with a band plan by the end of the year and hold the auction in 2014.
Based on a review of those FCC comments and discussions with knowledgeable parties, here is your handy guide to better understanding this jarring jargon.
Repacking: The FCC will need to move some broadcasters closer together on the spectrum band after the auctions, even encouraging them to share channels, so it can clear contiguous blocks of spectrum for wireless companies to bid on— thus, “repacking” them. Also occupying the band are authorized microphones used for TV newsgathering— as well as live sports, Broadway shows and church services—and medical telemetry and radio astronomy services (on Ch. 37) and low-power broadcasters (LPTVs). The FCC also wants to set aside spectrum for unlicensed wireless devices. Why it matters: Broadcasters argue that if the FCC tries to fit them too close together in its effort to free up spectrum, broadcasters—and wireless companies— could suffer interference and broadcasters could lose viewers, making it even tougher to compete in a multichannel world.
Duplex Gap: The duplex gap is the space needed between two blocks of spectrum—the wireless uplink (signals from the handset to the receiver) and downlink (from the receiver to the handset). A duplex gap is needed so that those uplinks and downlinks do not interfere with one another, thereby creating problems for wireless consumers. Why it matters: The FCC originally proposed putting TV stations in that duplex spectrum gap, which both broadcasters and some wireless companies argue would subject them to unwanted interference. Now it looks like the commission won’t do this, say sources inside and outside the FCC.
OET-69: No, that’s not a secret government base investigating spectrum. It is the number of the FCC Office of Engineering & Technology Bulletin outlining the Longley-Rice methodology for evaluating TV service coverage and interference, and the TV Study software used for calculating it. Why it matters: The FCC, which has updated the software, will use it to figure out interference protections and coverage areas for TV stations when it repacks them, including coordinating with Mexican and Canadian broadcasters on the border. The National Association of Broadcasters has cried foul, saying the law authorizing the auctions required the FCC to use the software and data in use at the time of the law’s passage and that the new software is flawed. The FCC says the methodology has not changed and that it only made sense to plug in updated census data.
Guard Bands: These are designed to protect services from interfering with one another in the same market. Why it matters: To keep wireless services and broadcasters from interfering with each other, the FCC will need to leave some spectrum vacant. Broadcasters want to make sure the FCC does not leave too little buffer in its push to free up as much spectrum as possible for wireless.