Unlikely allies fight plan to move TV stations into duplex gap

In what sure sounds like a case of strange bedfellows, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Radio & Television Digital News Association, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Open Technology Institute at New America, Public Knowledge, Free Press and Common Cause are among the parties jointly asking the FCC to back off a staff recommendation to relocate TV stations in the duplex gap after next year's incentive auction.

In a letter to the FCC, they're asking that the commission not walk away from a commitment it made in last year's Framework Order to preserve the duplex gap for sharing between wireless microphones and TV white space devices in markets nationwide. "Relocating television stations in the duplex gap in certain markets will render the gap in those markets unusable by either unlicensed devices or wireless microphones in those areas where the penetration characteristics of low-band spectrum are most needed," the letter states.

The letter urges the FCC to maintain its current policy of relocating TV stations, only if absolutely necessary, in the mobile carrier uplink or downlink portions of the new post-auction 600 MHz band plan.

"Placing TV stations in the duplex gap is just plain bad policy that ignores clear Congressional intent," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America's Open Technology Institute, in a statement. "Broadcasters, newscasters, technology companies and consumer advocates all urge the Commission not to reverse the agency's decision last year to adopt a balanced auction policy that also protects the public interest in unlicensed spectrum and in over-the-air broadcasting."

"Our broad coalition asks the Commission to stick with its current, balanced policy that does not sacrifice the public's interest in better Wi-Fi and in local news coverage for the short-sighted siren song of a bit more auction revenue," he said.

Last year, the commission decided to dedicate the "duplex gap," also known as the guard band, to Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses, as well as for licensed broadcast news microphones, but a staff recommendation reverses that.

Last month, Calabrese, along with Free Press and Common Cause representatives, met with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's legal counsel, Louis Peraertz, to discuss the matter, according to an ex parte filing. The public interest advocates said that if the commission adopts the staff's recommendations, that would also reverse the agency's decision last year to adopt a balanced policy that protects the public interest in unlicensed spectrum, and in over-the-air broadcasting, in addition to a successful auction for the wireless industry.

The public interest groups also noted that at the time of the 2014 Report and Order, "it was widely discussed and accepted that locating an unlicensed channel in the Duplex Gap nationwide was essential to ensuring three six-megahertz channels in every market," the filing states. "Continued unlicensed access to at least three unlicensed channels is the minimum needed to spur and sustain the investment by companies including Broadcom and MediaTek to integrate the IEEE 802.11af standard" for TV white space (TVWS) into Wi-Fi chips for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices that would benefit from the greater penetration and range of low-band unlicensed spectrum.

Representatives of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Broadcom and Microsoft also are on the same page, lobbying the commission on the importance of access to low-frequency unlicensed spectrum and arguing that a decision by the commission to place broadcasters in the duplex gap in certain markets would detract from the goal of identifying three TV white space channels per market for consumers.

For more:
- see this FCC filing and this filing
- see this blog post
- see this release

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