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Court rejects challenge to aspect of FCC's spectrum sale

Court rejects challenge to aspect of FCC's spectrum sale
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A federal court on Tuesday ruled against a challenge to part of the Federal Communications Commission’s ongoing process of reassigning valuable wireless spectrum to mobile providers.

FCC officials are currently running an auction to buy spectrum from broadcasters and sell it wireless providers and other buyers — and repackage the assignment of radio frequencies in the process.

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Low-power television (LPTV) services, small regional stations that have a secondary position to full-power broadcasters, were not protected from potential difficulties during that repacking process by the commission. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a challenge from Mako Communications, an LPTV operator, to the FCC’s decision not to extend those protections to its operations, citing a prohibition on altering their spectrum rights in the law authorizing the repacking.

The court said that the FCC’s decision not to offer the protections did not change the rights of LPTV broadcasters, since full-power stations already have priority when it comes to using wireless spectrum.

“As a general matter, LPTV stations’ secondary status renders them subject to displacement insofar as they cause interference to primary services,” Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote in the ruling.

Mako Communications did not immediately offer a comment when reached on Tuesday.

"Today's court ruling validates the Commission's Incentive Auction design in light of the Spectrum Act’s goals," said an FCC spokesperson in a statement. "The Commission values the important role that low-power TV and TV translator stations play in the communities they serve. With that in mind, we have taken — and continue to consider — steps to assist any displaced low power stations to find feasible channels after the close of the auction."

The repacking process is one of several steps in the process of reassigning the spectrum. Earlier this year, the commission held an auction for broadcasters to bid to give up their spectrum. It is currently accepting bids for the licenses from wireless companies, including AT&T and Verizon, and others.

The hope is to help meet the high demand from consumers created by the rise of smartphones and other connected devices. It also could mean a major payout for the broadcasting industry, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calling is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for stations.

—This post was updated at 1:41 p.m.