FCC Sets New Draft Rules for 600MHz Incentive Auction

Posted by at 4:02 pm on May 16, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission today adopted draft rules that will eventually govern the Broadcast Television Incentive Auction.

The auction, planned for mid-2015, will offer television broadcasters the opportunity to sell their airwaves back to the federal government, which will then be auctioned off to wireless network operators for mobile broadband. The Report and Order includes information about how the FCC will manage the auction itself, and what will happen to the airwaves in question both during and after the auction.

The FCC wants to see the spectrum broken down into paired 5MHz bands for uplink/downlink, as well as to make sure there’s little variation in the spectrum so it can be pieced together to cover as much of the nation as possible. The plan calls for reasonable guard bands on either side of the 5MHz channels to prevent interference, and specifically calls for those guard bands to remain open as white space spectrum for unlicensed use. Television channels that choose to participate in the auction will have several options, which include going off the air, jumping to a VHF channel, or sharing a channel with another broadcaster. (The FCC proved earlier this year that two TV stations can transmit in the same channel with new technology.) Importantly, the FCC is mandating that mobile devices be interoperable across the entire 600MHz band, which will permit roaming agreements and benefit consumers.

New spectrum licensees will have six years to build out mobile broadband to 40% of the population in their new service area, and 12 years to reach 75%. The FCC is accepting comments on this draft and will adjust them as necessary before formally adopting them ahead of the auction.

Plus the FCC is reserving 30MHz of the spectrum licenses (per market) for those companies that hold less than one-third of the low-band spectrum licenses in that area. Non-national carriers that have less than one-third of the spectrum will be able to bid on all the spectrum that’s made available in the 600MHz auction. National carriers that have one-third of the available spectrum or more will not be allowed to bid on the 30MHz reserve, but will be able to bid on the remaining licenses. The FCC believes this promotes competition, though it will limit what AT&T and Verizon can acquire in the 600MHz auction. Together, AT&T and Verizon already own 70% of the country’s low-band spectrum. Sprint and T-Mobile combined own only 15%.

The auction is expected to draw a lot of interest due to the strong propagation characteristics of the 600MHz spectrum.

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