FCC approves broadcast spectrum sharing pilot for L.A. TV stations

The FCC, as had been expected, approved a CTIA plan to partner with two Los Angeles TV stations to conduct a pilot project with the aim of showing that the stations can share the same broadcast spectrum.

"We find that the Channel Sharing Pilot is in the public interest, as it may help to demonstrate the feasibility of successful channel sharing between two independently owned stations," Barbara Kreisman, chief of the video division in the FCC's Media Bureau, wrote in a letter to the CTIA and the two stations. "It also may serve as a model for other stations contemplating participation in the incentive auction, using the channel sharing option, and provide information about the technical implementation of channel sharing agreements. We do not anticipate enforcement issues that would impede the accomplishment of the experiment."

Last week senior FCC officials expressed enthusiasm for the channel sharing project. The test will take place this quarter.

The pilot project is meant to demonstrate to broadcasters that they can share spectrum with other broadcasters and not have their operations hurt as a result. Getting broadcasters to buy into that premise is key to getting them to relinquish their spectrum as part of the 2015 incentive auctions of 600 MHz broadcast TV airwaves. Without widespread broadcaster participation, the auctions will fail.

Under the channel sharing agreement, TV stations KLCS and KJLA will conduct a series of tests that will culminate in KLCS "hosting" KJLA's content and transmitting a shared stream that will combine the two stations' primary and multicast content, CTIA has said. The stations will also attempt a variety of HD and SD video feeds to confirm the feasibility and technical limits of channel sharing between two unaffiliated broadcast stations. CTIA has said there will be no impact to KJLA's and KLCS' viewers during the tests.

The stations volunteered to participate in the pilot channel sharing project, CTIA has said. Once the testing process is complete, the organizations will report to the FCC on their findings, with the hope of giving the FCC and other interested parties information on how channel sharing works in practice.

CTIA has said that to test the viability of the technology, it wanted to work with broadcast TV stations in a large city where the highest demand for spectrum is occurring. If the incentive auctions are to succeed, broadcasters in major metropolitan areas, so-called "NFL cities" for markets with National Football League teams, will need to give up their spectrum, since carriers need airwaves more in major markets than in rural areas.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided in December to push the start of the 600 MHz auction back to mid-2015 to make sure that the FCC got the technical rules of the auction correct and allow more time to develop the final rules. Under the FCC's proposed rules, broadcasters will submit bids to relinquish their 6 MHz pieces of spectrum in a reverse auction where the FCC will pay them. (The FCC's band plan for the broadcast spectrum carriers would use calls for 5 MHz blocks.)

The process is voluntary for broadcasters, but many worry that broadcasters might not give up their spectrum based to their previous resistance to the auctions and uncertainty over how much money they will ultimately receive, as well as how their operations will be affected by giving up their spectrum. That last concern is what the CTIA is trying to assuage with the pilot.

For more:
- see this FCC document (PDF)
- see this PhoneScoop article

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