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The FCC last Friday allowed local television broadcasters to share channels, allowing competing broadcast stations to to double up on a single channel and stream individual programming while sharing a single channel. Two or more stations can share a single 19.4 Mbps data stream in a 6 MHz channel

The new rules are designed to use spectrum more efficiently. The rules also help preserve broadcast television as a healthy, viable medium, says the FCC, since stations sharing a single broadcast TV channel will employ a single channel and transmission facility. Each will continue to be licensed separately, retain its original call sign, retain an FCC license, and remain subject to all of the FCC’s rules, policies, and obligations.

The FCC hopes it will entice weak stations to double up (or even triple up) on channels, then turn over their unused spectrum to the FCC and participate in a voluntary “incentive” auctions.

Stations will need to retain at least one standard definition stream at no direct charge to viewers, but they will have the flexibility of tailoring their channel sharing agreements to meet their individual programming and economic needs. The new rules apply to full power and Class A television stations, including both commercial and noncommercial educational television stations

The FCC’s Report and Order establishes a framework for how two or more television licensees may voluntarily share a single six MHz channel in conjunction with the auction process.

The CTIA responded positively:

“Today’s adoption of the Innovation in the Television Bands Report and Order by the FCC marks another important step to freeing up valuable spectrum so the U.S. wireless industry may meet Americans’ demand for mobile broadband services. By allowing broadcasters to share channels, the FCC is making TV spectrum license holders more efficient users of this finite resource. In turn, consumers will benefit as wireless providers will have an opportunity to purchase the repacked spectrum for billions at auction.”

The order is part of the commission’s effort to open 120 MHz of TV spectrum for wireless broadband through an incentive auction in which participating broadcasters receive a share of the proceeds. The channel-sharing rules rest on the arrangements being voluntary.

“The rules we adopt will not require any licensees to operate on a shared channel under any circumstances,” the R&O states. Nor will they “authorize the commission to choose channel-sharing partners.”

A total of 30,375 broadcast stations are licensed for operation in the United States according to a new tally from the FCC. Of the total, there are 1783 full-power commercial and educational television licensees. Of those, 1028 are commercial UHF channels; 359 are commercial VHF broadcasters; 289 are UHF education stations; and 107 are VHF educational television channels.

The FCC is planning to auction unused television frequencies for licensed broadband wireless after “repacking” broadcasters into the VHF and lower UHF spectrum. Currently US television uses channel 2 (54 Mhz) through channel 51 (698 MHz). The FCC hopes to vacate channel 31-51 and auction them for mobile broadband. The “incentive auction” of channels in the UHF television band is expected to raise some $25 billion.

Auctioning 120 MHz between channels 31 and 51 should still leave 29 (“free”) DTV channels between Channel 2 and Channel 30. Some 75 years ago, a high “public service” value was placed on radio and television for disseminating news and information. Today local television stations are largely controlled by group owners…and don’t pay taxpayers one dime for the privilege.

In its national broadband plan, the FCC is proposing free up some 300 MHz spectrum for auctioning as part of an effort to eventually free up 500 Mhz of spectrum for commercial wireless broadband.

Related DailyWireless stories include; FCC Gets White Space Autonomy, Public Service Gives Up 470-512 Mhz, D-Block Gets a Hearing, National Wireless Initiative, White House: D-Block to Police/Fire, First Responders Get Bills for D-Block , Free Spectrum for Cities: Fergetaboutit, Verizon: Spectrum Scarcity is Good, The National Broadband Plan, Battle of the Bands, Cellcos: One Thing – Bandwidth, AT&T Can’t Give Away Their Muni WiFi Net, FCC: Free Broadband at 2155-2180 MHz, Free Internet Access Proposed by FCC, FCC: 2150 MHz, No Problem, CellCos to Martin: Sit Down and Shut Up, FCC: Free Broadband at 2155-2180 MHz, MXtv Makes Its Move, Free 2155-2175 MHz!, The Free Triple Play, How to Fix Muni Wi-Fi, D-Block: It’s Done, Congress Pays, and AWS: It’s Done.

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