Dems caution FCC ahead of wireless auction

Dems caution FCC ahead of wireless auction
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Senate Democrats are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move cautiously as it decides how to handle a hotly-contested block of wireless spectrum during an upcoming auction.

At issue is the so-called “duplex gap,” a band of wireless spectrum that sits between the airwaves used by mobile devices for uploading and downloading data and helps reduce the risk of interference.

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The FCC is planning to buy spectrum from television stations in an auction next year and resell it to wireless providers. Some have floated relocating some of the television signals displaced by the auction to the duplex gap. Others say it should be reserved for other purposes.

In a Tuesday letter, five Democratic senators urged FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to tread carefully and exercise "extreme caution in pursuing this course."

“As the FCC considers how best to relocate broadcasters during the incentive auction, it must ensure adequate spectrum is available for unlicensed use on a contiguous nation-wide basis, and that local broadcasters can continue to report the news and serve their local communities without undue disruption,” they wrote.

“If the Commission must relocate full-power broadcasters in the 600 MHz band, it should do so in a way that minimized interference and negative consequences for unlicensed spectrum use and wireless microphones."

The senators are referring to worries that moving broadcasters into the duplex gap would limit the availability of unlicensed spectrum, which is not claimed by an individual owner and is used for technology like Wi-Fi.

“Relocating a full-power broadcaster in the duplex gap would, in effect, remove this spectrum for unlicensed use in that media market and therefore block millions of potential consumers from accessing next generation unlicensed services,” the senators said.

They also expressed concern about the effect that using the gap for television stations would have on the wireless microphones used during breaking news broadcasts.

The letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The FCC has struggled with the question of how to handle the duplex gap. Last month, Wheeler postponed a vote on procedural rules for the upcoming auction after criticism that the commission had not given the public enough time to analyze data related to the gap. The agency's five commissioners are scheduled to vote on the rules on Thursday.

Next year’s auction will be the first that allows spectrum belonging to TV stations to be sold to wireless providers. Use of the wireless airwaves — and particularly powerful low-band spectrum — has become valuable with the rise of data-hungry smartphones.

The auction is currently scheduled for late March, which would allow Wheeler to keep his promise of holding it in the first quarter of 2016. It remains to be seen how interested wireless providers and television stations are in participating.