By Stephen J. Matzura and Marty Stern
The FCC, at its open meeting last week, adopted a number of key items on the broadcast incentive auction, which it hopes to kick off by March 2016. If successful, the incentive auction will allow participating broadcasters to receive payment for relinquishing their spectrum and will make spectrum available in the 600 MHz band for auction to wireless providers.
Among a raft of complexities, the process will require that remaining broadcasters be “repacked” in the band from their existing channels. At the same time, it will provide for unlicensed use (think Wi-Fi and TV “white space” devices) of guard bands between wireless and broadcast frequencies, and what is known as the “duplex gap” — vacant space between the uplink and downlink operations of the new wireless providers in the band. In one contentious move, the Commission agreed to provide flexibility in the repacking process by authorizing as necessary the relocation of broadcasters to the duplex gap in particular markets, which would render that spectrum unusable for unlicensed operations in those markets. In a compromise brokered by Commissioner Rosenworcel, the Commission agreed to seek comment on whether it should preserve a vacant channel in such markets for unlicensed and licensed microphone use.