Studying spectrum

FCC's Powell names task force, raises two commissioners' ire

FCC Chairman Michael Powell last Thursday appointed a spectrum-policy task force to resolve the spectrum crunch, a move that sparked criticism from two fellow commissioners.

The new task force was created to help the FCC devise policies that will encourage more-efficient use of communications spectrum and alleviate the shortage of frequencies available for new technologies.

Changes in spectrum policy are critically important to broadcasters. The industry already is under pressure to relinquish spectrum now used for chs. 52-69, scheduled to be auctioned to new users beginning this summer, and stations located there are depending on current interference rules to protect them from encroachment by new users until the transition to digital transmissions is complete.

Industry officials are concerned flexible-use policies will allow new services to enter the remaining broadcast spectrum on lower channels, creating a new interference threat.

Powell doesn't see the latest round of questions as different from roundtables and other public forums discussing spectrum policy, according to an FCC spokesman, and is simply attempting to gather input that would be helpful in crafting a future inquiry.

Paul Kolodzy, senior spectrum policy advisor for the Office of Engineering and Technology, will lead the task force. Last week, the group issued a public notice with 28 policy questions on a range of issues comprised by its tentative work plan.

Commissioners Kevin Martin and Michael Copps complained the questionnaire had not been vetted with the other commissioners and could frame the debate in ways conflicting with majority views.

The two commissioners said comment should have been sought via a notice of inquiry approved by the full commission. "We fear that the approach used here could ultimately lead to greater delay because it will require at least one additional round of comment before the commission itself even begins to engage in the issues," they said in a prepared statement.

To lead off the questionnaire, the task force asked for specific policy and rule changes needed to migrate from current spectrum-allocation methods to "more market-oriented" approaches.

Also on the list: Should broadcasters and other incumbent licensees have flexibility to offer new services on their existing spectrum? How would interference rights of incumbents and new licensees be redefined under flexibility? Should broadcasters and other licenses issued for specific transmitter sites be converted to geographic area licenses? What, if anything, should be done to restructure spectrum held by incumbents in order to reduce transaction costs and prevent strategic holdouts? Comments are due July 8, replies July 23.