The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to vote on its ‘vacant channel’ proposal, but as the US 600MHz spectrum auction nears, it’s engendering definite opinion and just as carrier interest in the auction continues to wane.
The commission is gearing up for an incentive auction of unused analogue TV spectrum, left over from the digital TV transition. The hope is to free up more spectrum for 4G and advanced wireless services, like mobile video, while the FCC is set to implement a spectrum incentive auction framework. Thus, it will be a two-sided auction for the spectrum in an effort to pay broadcasters a fair value for their assets before selling it to the highest-bidding mobile carriers.
However, those broadcasters choosing not to participate will have their spectrum 'repacked' into other bands to protect their signals from neighbouring interference and ensure uninterrupted TV service.
The FCC last autumn proposed setting aside up to two UHF channels in every US TV market for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed wireless services. This so-called ‘vacant channel’ effort takes valuable real estate away from low-power stations looking to find new homes after the agency’s repacking this year, broadcasters have argued.
“In many ways, it’s one of the most insidious [anti-broadcaster] initiatives the FCC has put on the table,” said Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Mark Aitken.
Now, the Multichannel Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) has weighed in, arguing that reserving the last channel in a market for unlicensed use would have a "devastating" impact on diverse programming and ownership of broadcast stations.
MMTC, in a letter to the FCC, argued that low-power stations often are the only viable home for niche, local content, and as such have been one of the most successful ways of getting diverse content to multicultural audiences.
"[T]he vacant channel proposal will leave many multilingual audiences without any options for news, information and emergency programming in a language that they can understand,” it argued.
The FCC has said that in most markets there would still be two vacant channels after the repack.
In other auction news, Google has decided not to bid for licences, joining Sprint, Charter Communications and other comms giants in sitting it out. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are all still expected to take part.
"Like all those interested in improved connectivity and equitable access, we'll be following the upcoming spectrum auction closely. That said, we have not filed to participate," a Google representative told Reuters.
“We expect lower demand in this auction, as carrier balance sheets are stretched by the last auction and recent acquisitions - we don't expect Dish to be a substantial bidder, and private equity demand will be lower due to restrictions on Designed Entity bidding and the long time to usability,” said JP Morgan Chase in an investor note.
It expects the auction to bring in just $25 billion to $35 billion in total winning bids, far below the $45 billion that the AWS spectrum auction hauled into the coffers last year.