Electromagnetic frequencies used for wireless communications

Rep Pallone Proposes $1B Boost to Auction Repack Fund

House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ)—who has long pushed Congress to hold viewers harmless in the post-incentive auction repack—has introduced a bill to make sure the moving expenses of TV stations (and affected FM stations and pay-TV providers) are covered, given the initial broadcaster estimates of $2.1 billion in expenses and Congress' set-aside of only $1.75 billion.

The Viewer Protection Act would establish a $1 billion "emergency fund" if needed and fund a $90 million viewer outreach effort, given that most of a thousand stations are moving channels—some likely twice—in a 10-phase transition. Any money left over could be used to help low-power stations (including translators), who are not protected in the repack. The bill would also give the FCC's Media Bureau the flexibility to modify the transition periods for the phased transition so stations would not go dark to viewers for reasons outside their control.

What’s Next for TV Stations Repacked as a Result of the Incentive Auction?

As the repacking of the TV band proceeds after the Incentive Auction, the Federal Communications Commission has issued some guidance as to what comes next for TV stations. Obviously, in the near future, TV stations that agreed to surrender their spectrum in the auction will get notice from the FCC to expect their payments from the proceeds collected from the wireless companies that purchased the repackaged surrendered TV spectrum. For stations that are remaining in operation, who last week were required to file construction permit applications for their repacking to the smaller TV band, and their estimates of the expenses that they will incur in the repacking process, the FCC published an article on its blog, setting out what is next. The article notes that 25 stations will be filing soon in a new window for stations that either cannot construct on the channels that they were assigned by the FCC, or need expanded facilities to replicate their existing coverage. After that window, there will be another window when the remaining repacked stations can file to maximize their facilities on their new channels. Following those two windows, there will be a window for LPTV stations and TV translators who were displaced by the auction to file for new channels.

FCC Announces Preliminary Reimbursable Cost Estimate for the Post-Auction Broadcast Transition

This week, TV stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) eligible for reimbursement of costs associated with new channel assignments resulting from the incentive auction submitted their initial cost estimates. Jean Kiddoo, Chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, issued the following statement: “Based on information we have received as of 7:00 a.m. today, the aggregate amount of the estimated costs reported by reimbursement-eligible entities is $2,115,328,744.33. We expect to receive additional estimates from MVPDs and a small number of stations. In addition, the initial estimates that comprise this amount will be subject to a careful review by the Commission and our fund administrator. The aggregate cost estimate provided today will therefore change for purposes of the initial allocation of reimbursement funds.”

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for August 2017 Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the August Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 3, 2017:

  1. Connect America Fund Phase II Auction (Auction 903) – The Commission will consider a Public Notice to initiate the pre-auction process for the Connect America Fund Phase II auction which will award up to $198 million annually for 10 years to service providers that commit to offer voice and broadband services to fixed locations in unserved high-cost areas. (AU Docket No. 17-182)
  2. Mobility Fund Phase II Challenge Process – The Commission will consider an Order on Reconsideration and Second Report and Order that lays out a robust challenge process that will enable the Commission to direct Mobility Fund Phase II support to primarily rural areas that lack unsubsidized 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) service. (WC Docket No. 10-90; WT Docket No.10-208)
  3. Form 477 - The Commission will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that takes a focused look at the Commission’s Form 477 to improve the value of the data we continue to collect. (WC Docket No. 11-10)
  4. Expanding Flexible Use in Mid-Band Spectrum Between 3.7 GHz and 24 GHz – The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry that explores opportunities for next generation services – particularly for wireless broadband – in the 3.7 GHz to 24 GHz spectrum range and asks about how we can increase efficient and effective use of this spectrum for the benefit of all services and users. (GN Docket No. 17-183)
  5. Wireless License Renewal and Service Continuity Reform – The Commission will consider a Second Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would adopt unified construction, renewal, and service continuity rules for the Wireless Radio Services, while seeking comment on a range of additional possible actions to increase the number of Americans with access to wireless communications services. (WTB Docket No. 10-112)
  6. Transmitter Identification Requirements for Satellite Digital Video Uplink Transmissions – The Commission will consider a Memorandum Opinion and Order that waives the requirement that satellite news trucks, and other temporary-fixed satellite earth stations transmitting digital video, comply with the Digital Video Broadcasting-Carrier Identification (DVB-CID) standard if the earth station uses a modulator that cannot meet the DVB-CID standard through a software upgrade. (IB Docket No. 12-267)
  7. Hearing Designation Order – The Commission will consider a Hearing Designation Order.
  8. Enforcement Bureau Action – The Commission will consider an enforcement action.

Entering the Construction Phase of the Post-Incentive Auction Transition

July 12 marks another milestone in the incentive auction transition – the deadline for TV stations that have been assigned a new channel to file for construction permits for their new facilities and to submit their estimated eligible costs for relocation. The cable and satellite companies that carry those relocating stations will also file their estimated costs today. Tomorrow, the 36-month phased transition schedule to implement construction, testing, and operation on the reassigned channels formally begins. Although construction permits and cost estimates aren’t due until tonight, we wanted to give you a preview on how the next steps in the construction permit and reimbursement process will unfold.

Microsoft Rural Airband Project Will Partner with Service Providers for Rural Broadband

Microsoft introduced an initiative, the Microsoft Rural Airband project. Microsoft will invest an unspecified amount of money with existing rural broadband carriers to bring broadband to 2 million people in rural America by 2022. Microsoft will help fund projects that use TV white spaces spectrum for wireless broadband. It’s a technology they believe in and have deployed in 20 projects across the globe, serving about 185K subscribers.

TV white spaces spectrum is in the 600 MHz band and offers good propagation and distance characteristics. Microsoft is also calling on federal, state, and local governments to play a role. They are advocating appropriate spectrum use policies with the FCC to ensure nationwide unlicensed use of three channels below the 700 MHz band. They are calling on matching funds from any federal and state infrastructure spending to include TV white spaces technology options.

A Mid-Band Spectrum Win in the Making

Anyone who has spent half a minute working on wireless communications issues knows that America’s wireless providers need additional spectrum to expand existing network capacity and/or deploy new technologies (e.g., 5G). Such constraints apply to both licensed and unlicensed spectrum users. While spectrum isn’t necessarily finite, current technical limitations make it so. This means that there is constant and appropriate pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to identify underutilized spectrum bands and reallocate them for new commercial purposes. Next generation wireless networks will require high, mid and low band spectrum.

While the Commission has taken steps to provide high and low band resources, more attention needs to be paid to the mid bands. So, when presented with a viable proposal that would free spectrum for licensed and unlicensed purposes while protecting or accommodating incumbent licensees, the Commission should grab it with both hands and rejoice. That exact scenario presents itself in the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz and 6 GHz bands. The Commission has the chance to reallocate key bands in a way that would provide needed spectrum for both licensed and unlicensed networks without harming incumbent users. Accordingly, we should tee up the private sector idea outlined above in a quick manner -- whether as part of a longer Notice of Inquiry or a separate, more targeted proceeding -- in the very near future. I, for one, believe doing otherwise would put U.S. spectrum leadership in question and threaten the longevity and viability of America’s broad wireless community.

To Close Digital Divide, Microsoft to Harness Unused Television Channels

Microsoft will harness the unused channels between television broadcasts, known as white spaces, to help get more of rural America online.

In an event at the Willard Hotel in Washington, where Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated a coast-to-coast telephone call a century ago, Microsoft plans to say that it will soon start a white-spaces broadband service in 12 states including Arizona, Kansas, New York and Virginia to connect two million rural Americans in the next five years who have limited or no access to high-speed internet. Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said white spaces were “the best solution for reaching over 80 percent of people in rural America who lack broadband today.” To support the white-spaces plan, Microsoft is appealing to federal and state regulators to guarantee the use of unused television channels and investments in promoting the technology in rural areas. But the company faces many hurdles with the technology.

Microsoft said its goal was not to become a telecom provider. It will work with local internet service providers like Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities in Virginia and Axiom Technologies in Maine by investing in some of the capital costs and then sharing in revenue. It has also opened its patents on the technology and teamed with chip makers to make devices that work with white spaces cheaper.

As the Digital Divide Grows, An Untapped Solution Languishes

Too many students still scrounge for the vital internet access their classmates (and technology-enamored school reformers) take for granted. Dozens of interviews—along with reviews of tax disclosures, Federal Communications Commission filings, and court records related to the Educational Broadband Service (EBS)—show that this educational spectrum is, at least, woefully underutilized. It's a public resource born of good intentions but wasted by a broken system.

There are lots of ideas for fixing EBS. JH Snider of iSolon said the FCC could reclaim leased EBS licenses when they expire and reallocate them, although he can’t imagine them taking such a bold step. The FCC could also issue new spectrum licenses for the rural areas not yet covered by EBS, under the condition that license holders use the spectrum for public purposes rather than lease it. The national association of EBS license holders sent the FCC a proposal along these lines in 2014, but the agency has not formally responded. As for the current leases that dominate EBS, EveryoneOn founder Zach Leverenz said that the FCC could do a lot to “correct the shadiness in the system” just by clarifying the vagueness of legacy rules tying EBS to its original mission—such as defining what 20 hours per week of educational use means and ensuring that the 5 percent of spectrum “reserved” from the leases is actually used for educational purposes.

The FCC needs to implement a 'rocket docket' for wireless spectrum, and fast

[Commentary] Newly-minted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly stated that one of his top priorities is to “increase infrastructure and innovation.” Taking the chairman at his word, developing an efficient, transparent and expedited process to allow existing license holders to convert their spectrum in underutilized bands to a higher-value use should be at the top of his “to do” list. In so doing, we short-circuit the laborious task of identifying, clearing and auctioning potential “greenfield” bands of government spectrum (although as spectrum is always in short supply, those efforts should certainly continue) and provide a powerful incentive for existing license holders to convert their spectrum through relatively quick regulatory changes for use in enterprise partnerships; consumer-focused commercial endeavors; or sold in the secondary market for other purposes. Under these scenarios, more high-value commercial spectrum would be available for advanced wireless services which, in turn, will lead to more investment, innovation and infrastructure deployment.

If Chairman Pai is truly serious about increasing infrastructure and innovation, then he needs to send a loud and clear signal that the FCC is “open for business” for repurposing spectrum from low to high value uses. The Commission has a unique opportunity to bring much-needed spectrum for commercial use on its own motion without having to deal with the bureaucracy of the rest of the federal government. It need only seize it.

[Lawrence J. Spiwak is the president of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies]