FCC Authorizes Channel Sharing for TV Stations in Advance of Incentive Auctions

At its open meeting last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that will enable TV stations to share channels of broadcast spectrum.  As the first step in the process to make TV band spectrum available for new uses, the new rules will allow TV stations to voluntarily share a single six megahertz channel as part of the incentive auction process approved by Congress in February.  This process will involve providing broadcasters with financial incentives to submit their licenses for cancellation in exchange for a share of proceeds of reauctioning the spectrum for new service providers.  The channel-sharing rules apply only to those TV stations that participate in the incentive auction process.  The rules will be effective 30 days following publication in the Federal Register. 

Under the new rules, TV stations must continue to transmit at least one standard definition stream over-the-air at no charge. These stations will still be licensed separately and thus subject to all of the associated regulatory obligations.  Only full power and Class A commercial and non-commercial TV stations are eligible; LPTV and TV translator stations cannot participate.  The Commission stated that each TV station would be required to continue to cover its community of license, but deferred to a separate proceeding issues related to loss of coverage (e.g., relocation of transmit site, propagation changes resulting from channel change).  Within these parameters, TV stations may enter into agreements to determine how the spectrum will be shared.

The Commission also concluded that, as required by the spectrum legislation, each separately licensed TV station sharing a single six megahertz channel will have one primary stream of programming that is subject to “must carry” rights.  In this regard, the new rules are intended to have no effect on cable or satellite carriage of TV stations, so long as the stations meet existing technical requirements such as providing a “good quality signal” of at least -61 dBm to the cable or satellite provider. 

Expect much more to come as the Commission attempts to clear TV stations and repack the remaining spectrum for use by TV stations, wireless carriers and unlicensed devices. For starters, the FCC will hold a channel sharing workshop on May 22.