Switching channels


The government is urging broadcasters to get off ch. 52-59, but TV could remain a key service on that spectrum. Two-way TV is among the new services that will be allowed, according to frequency-reallocation rules that the FCC approved last week.

Several broadcasters "expressed interest" in launching new services on the band, said Bruce Franca, acting chief of the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology, and the new frequencies are being sliced into 6-MHz allotments at least in part to accommodate them.

Buyouts would be approved on a case-by-case basis. The buyout procedure is similar to one already in place for ch. 60-69, with one key difference: Broadcasters on the lower channels must clear a slightly higher hurdle to win government approval. Absent evidence to the contrary, the FCC will assume that a buyout on 60-69 is in the public interest. Licensees on ch. 52-59 must show that the public benefits counterbalance the reduction in TV service.

In a move sure to anger some broadcasters, the FCC dismissed pending requests for new analog allocations in the ch. 52-59 band. License applications in markets where an allocation already has been granted will continue to be processed.

Broadcasters that give up digital allotments there would have to switch their remaining analog channel to digital in 2002. To ensure an audience when few viewers own DTV sets, broadcasters that give up that portion of the band will be entitled to cable must-carry for their single digital signal.

The reallocation, which also permits fixed and mobile wireless services, slices the spectrum into three 12-MHz blocks. Two will be sold to two bidders in each of six geographic regions. The third will be divided into licenses covering 734 metro and rural areas.