FCC seeks input on alternative band plans for 600 MHz auction

The FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) is seeking additional input on band plans for the upcoming 600 MHz auction, but an FCC commissioner indicated the unexpected notice threatens agency plans to hold the auction in 2014.

The WTB noted in a public notice that "many stakeholders support the 'Down from 51' band plan proposal--or a variation of it." That plan entails the clearing of broadcast TV channels starting at channel 51 and expanding downward. The uplink band would begin at channel 51 (698 MHz) followed by a duplex gap and then the downlink band.

Though a broad mix of broadcasters, and equipment manufacturers and leading wireless operators--including AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ)--support the Down from 51 plan framework, the bureau said comments from a May 3 public workshop indicated that support is primarily based on concerns over high-power services in the duplex gap and antenna design issues.

The WTB expressed concern that the Down from 51 proposals would limit flexibility and restrict market variation. The proposals, said the bureau, "are targeted at repurposing a specific amount of paired spectrum nationwide and provide limited options for how to offer less spectrum in constrained markets, or additional spectrum in individual markets, and only under certain scenarios."

Therefore, the WTB is seeking input on alternative band plans and set a June 14 deadline for comments and June 28 for replies.

Among the scenarios for which the WTB seeks input is a Down from 51 Reversed band plan, which would reverse the configuration of the uplink and downlink blocks. The downlink band would begin after a guard band at channel 51, followed by a duplex gap and then the uplink band.

In addition, a TDD-based framework proposed by Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) in its Jan. 25 opening comments is getting a fresh look. The WTB is seeking comments on a Down from 51 TDD band plan that would begin after a guard band at channel 51 and expand downward, followed by a guard band between wireless operations and broadcast television operations at the lower edge of the 600 MHz wireless band.

The WTB's public notice caught some by surprise, including Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, who said the bureau's notice was presented to him without prior consultation. The effort, he said, "has substantive and procedural infirmities that I fear will lead the incentive auction rulemaking astray."

He noted that rather than fleshing out the consensus Down from 51 framework, the WTB is now seeking input on band plans that have little or no support in the public record.

"This quixotic enterprise has us tilting at windmills, at serious cost. If the commission still aims to hold the incentive auction in 2014, we have neither the time nor the resources to focus on band plans that we are highly unlikely to ever adopt," said Pai.

For more:
- see this FCC public notice
- see this Commissioner Pai statement
- see this Multichannel News article

Special Report: 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum - Spectrum auction guide

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