Fate of LPTV hangs in the incentive auction balance
The LPTV Spectrum Rights Coalition says that it is indeed getting a chance to make its views known to key FCC incentive auction officials – but is uncertain whether that means it is gaining their support. It will know more at the end of September when a Part-15 rulemaking is to be voted on by the five commissioners.
The organization urged constituents to get their comments in now. It also noted that some members of the LPTV community are prepared to take legal action, although it was unable to describe the grounds of the court action nor identify the parties that will bring them.
An August ex parte meeting with 11 members of the incentive auction task force produced the following six-part list of concerns. From the Coalition:
1) The new Coalition industry engagement process to prepare for and participate in the LPTV FNPRM this fall. We discussed the use of emails, telephone calls, and snail mail to reach out to all 1800+ LPTV licensees who have operating and are building more than 10,000 stations. The Coalition complained about the lack of adequate email contact information within the CDBS system, with less than 500 valid email addresses. The Coalition agreed to share the results of its’ surveys ad polls related to the LPTV FNPRM.
2) The Coalition shared the two parts of its’ legislative agenda for LPTV related to the auction and channel displacement process. This includes a bi-partisan request for an LPTV auction impact study. This is a quantification of projected LPTV displacement costs which would be done by the GAO, as it was done for the DTV transition. The request in Congress is being made into the Senate. The second part of the agenda is a bill which would both pay for LPTV channel displacement costs, and to enable LPTV with flexible use transmission rights. (see Smart LPTV Initiative below).
3) The Coalition complained that both the FCC Data Guidelines & OMB Data Quality Requirements are not being adhered to within the 2010 and 2014 Broadcast Ownership Reports. Specifically, these reports do not track the ownership data for the 5000+ TV translators, which are currently more than 76% of the LPTV service. The Coalition suggests that since the DTV transition, the TV translator owners have gone through dramatic changes, with many more private owners (meaning many more potential diverse owners), and a dramatic change in how TV translators are actually being operated. The DTV transition has enabled multiple digital channels instead of the single analog channel, and a fast growing minority of translator systems and licensees are now operating as LPTV digital stations. This also includes a large number of 2009 rural filing window operators who have never switched from a translator license to the LPTV LD license. Further, the Video Division, in its’ 2010 and 2014 Broadcast Ownership Reports did not follow-up with about 35% of LPTV licensees about their not fully completing the Form 323’s, and the specific diversity data required in that form. This may have resulted in an error rate which could have affected how Congress thought of LPTV in its’ 2012 Incentive Spectrum Auction legislation. This “dirty data problem” persists into the 2014 report, and could now affect LPTV preservation efforts. The Coalition signaled to the Task Force the dirty data issue could become a vector of litigation, appeal, and petitions for reconsideration related to the auction.
4) The Coalition requested immediate guidance on the “orphaned Class-A’s” (out- of-core) which have been determined not to be eligible for the auction. The Report & Order says that there are about 100 of these stations which are not auction eligible. What the Coalition wants to know is if they will be able to still have channel repacking prioritization, relocation funding, and authority to enter channel-share contracts? The Coalition discussed that knowing these answers as soon as possible is extremely important for both licensee business planning, and for strategic partnership planning. And with a mid-2015 deadline fast approaching for the signing of any channel-sharing agreements, getting these questions answered quickly is very important both for LPTV, and for the success of the auction itself.
5) The Coalition described its’ new “Smart LPTV Initiative”, which is a coordinated approach to enabling LPTV with a flexible use future operating system. We shared updates about the Coalition meetings with the wireless internet service providers and their trade association WISPA, the rural Telco’s and their Rural Broadband Alliance, with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Association of Public TV Stations, and the Public Broadcasting System. The Coalition described various Smart LPTV Initiative components:
a. Smart LPTV is a way that licensees can use TV White Space (TVWS) technologies to offer fixed broadband services within the LPTV 6-MHz spectrum to local communities. The Coalition recently received an internal opinion from the Video Division of the Media Bureau that since LPTV have no minimal operating requirements that as long as a built and licensed LPTV transmission plant is built, provides a non-interfering signal to its contour limits, and does not go dark for longer than 10 days, it may deploy a TVWS system within its licensed spectrum assignment and noise-limited contour, to its’ own customers. Further analysis has shown that LPTV may not have to even coordinate with TVWS database administrators if the LPTV TVWS customers use equipment which only operates within the LPTV’s licensed 6-MHz. The LPTV industry has over 2500 new construction permits from the 2009 rural filing window, of which most were anticipating that they would be able to deploy various flexible use transmission systems in support of the National Broadband Plan.
b. But the 2012 Incentive Spectrum Auction legislation put a damper on that investment activity and the business investment cycle for these deployments in support of national objectives has greatly slowed down or stopped. The Smart LPTV Initiative can re-ignite this pent up investment demand, and it can quickly deploy TVWS fixed broadband into communities which need it quickly and cost-effectively. The Coalition has developed its Initiative so that the WISPs, rural Telco’s, and local communities themselves can either lease LPTV channel capacity, or can purchase their spectrum on a lease/purchase basis. At the same time as the Coalition was presenting this to the Task Force, a key member of it, Spectrum Evolution, which has been at the forefront of the LPTV flex-use research and investment activity, was presenting the Smart LPTV Initiative to the Super Wifi event in Las Vegas. (We later learned that the Initiative was greeted with a lot of interest and potential business activity).
c. The Coalition requested that the Task Force include specific questions for comments into the LPTV FNPRM which deal with the flexible use future of LPTV. From a legislative standpoint, the Smart LPTV Initiative is essential in crafting a bill which provides for an LPTV displacement channel relocation costs. The Coalition wants full flex-use rights for LPTV, based on the 1999 Digital Data Services Act, which is current LPTV law. This Act enabled 12 LPTV licensees with full flex-use authority, although it was far ahead of its time and as of yet none of these 12 licensees have deployed flex-use systems. The Coalition is crafting the legislation so that LPTV channel displacement relocation costs are covered by the increase in ancillary fees from all LPTV licensees being awarded flex-use authority. But until that happens, the intent of the Smart LPTV Initiative is to enable all LPTV licensees today with TVWS fixed broadband capacity, if they think that their local communities of license need it, and they can find local WISP partners. Alternatively, they can do it themselves.
d. A key point which was made to the Task Force was that in many communities there are LPTV licensees with multiple stations and or new construction permits. This means that both broadcast channels and fixed broadband systems can be deployed as needed by the local communities. The FCC has signaled and is authorizing many different “spectrum sharing” tests, and the Coalition is offering LPTV spectrum for that purpose. LPTV already has authorization to do this with its spectrum as a result of its’ secondary service rules which enables it with a minimal level of service requirements.
e. The Coalition alerted OET staff in the meeting that it was preparing an LPTV experimental license program which included: 1. The use of TVWS technologies within the LPTV spectrum 2. A digital channel-6 transmission system with an 87.7 FM signal 3. A Single-Frequency Network testing 4. An increased power testing 5. Field tests for new ATSC 2.0 technologies and services
6) The Coalition asked the Task Force, “Which Bureau Will Conduct The LPTV Displacement Process? – Media Bureau Chief William Lake signaled in his April 2014 presentation at the Coalition Info-session during the NAB Show, that the LPTV displacement process will be “optimized”, meaning that the same software used in the auction and primary repack will be used for finding new channels for LPTV which are either displaced from 51-3X, or from primary stations displacing them below 3X. But the Coalition wanted to know which Bureau will actually be doing this? Unlike previous FCC auctions, where OET took the lead on issues like this, in the Incentive Spectrum Auction process it is very complicated. Task Force staff said in the meeting that they act as a team, that the Bureau Chiefs and Division leaders meet on a regular weekly basis, and that any decisions like this will be done as a team.