NAB offers compromise on duplex guard band plan

It looks as though unlikely allies have their limits. Earlier this month, a diverse coalition of broadcasters and unlicensed spectrum advocates rallied to get the FCC to reject a staff recommendation on a "duplex gap" plan related to next year's incentive auction.

Now the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), while saying it still prefers the compromise worked out more than a year ago, is suggesting another compromise--one that unlicensed spectrum advocates are not so keen on.

"While NAB remains opposed to the proposed impairments, we believe strongly that, if the commission insists on impairing certain markets, there is a far better solution than what is currently being considered," NAB General Counsel and EVP of legal and regulatory affairs Rick Kalan wrote in a July 21 letter to the FCC. "Indeed, the Commission can achieve its stated objectives in a way that better serves not only the staff's ends, but also those of wireless carriers, licensed wireless microphone users and unlicensed operators."

Kaplan notes that after the commission's July 16 open meeting, Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that the commission is seeking to impair the duplex gap in only six markets. Therefore, NAB is proposing that the commission be permitted to impair up to six markets with one TV station each. To avoid "crippling" unlicensed services and the ability of newsgatherers to effectively report breaking news, "no more than one of those impaired markets should be among the Top 15. Limiting the six impairments primarily to markets outside the Top 25 is consistent with the staff simulations released publicly on July 10. This approach gives the commission the flexibility it seeks in setting the initial spectrum clearing target," Kaplan wrote.

NAB also is proposing that once the clearing target is established, the FCC may not add any new television impairments in the wireless band, whether it be to the guard bands, duplex gap or downlink/uplink. So if a broadcast station elects to drop out of the auction and can't be repacked in the broadcast portion of the band, the commission must buy that station at its last accepted price. "This approach will enhance the auction by lessening 600 MHz band impairments and creating more unimpaired paired spectrum for the forward auction," Kaplan wrote. It also fairly compensates broadcasters by not allowing the FCC to avoid paying the most valuable stations by simply shifting them to the 600 MHz wireless band.

Among the organizations that had joined forces with the NAB earlier this month was the Open Technology Institute at New America, Public Knowledge and Free Press--organizations that typically are not on the same page as NAB.

For its part, the Open Technology Institute is not on board with the NAB's latest proposal.

"The NAB's fallback proposal will absolutely not allow the survival of enhanced Wi-Fi services that the commission decided last year to authorize in every market nationwide, just as Congress intended it to do," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute, in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. "The unlicensed community understands that broadcasters do not want a second TV channel in markets like L.A. reserved for Wi-Fi and broadcast news microphones, since that would compress TV stations to an even greater degree. The only good solution is for the FCC to stick with the compromise and balanced policy it adopted last year."

Last year, the FCC adopted an approach and designated post-auction guard bands for unlicensed public use nationwide, but the FCC's auction staff determined that it could auction somewhat more spectrum if TV stations could be placed in these guard band channels in a few key markets, such as Los Angeles and Philadelphia, Calabrese noted in a blog earlier this month.

The problem for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed users, he said, is that big technology companies have said that unless there is a minimally sufficient amount of unlicensed spectrum available nationwide--and particularly in critical markets like L.A.--they won't invest in a new generation of Wi-Fi chips that integrate "super Wi-Fi" connectivity into smartphones and tablets.

For more:
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this FCC filing

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