UHF TV Band Incentive Auction
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the incentive auction of UHF television spectrum will occur sometime in early 2016.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to seek ways to make more spectrum available for broadband wireless devices. In 2012, the FCC announced its intention to reallocate additional spectrum in the UHF TV band for this purpose through an incentive auction. The incentive auction will reallocate a portion of the 600 MHz band, extending downward from 698 MHz. We will not know the exact amount of UHF spectrum to be auctioned until the auction has concluded. At an FCC Meeting held on August 6, 2015, a Procedures Public Notice was approved that finalizes procedures for setting the initial spectrum clearing target, qualifying to bid, and bidding in the reverse and forward auctions. The auction is currently slated to begin on March 29, 2016.
The FCC also approved a Report and Order that adopts technical and operational rules for unlicensed services, including wireless microphone operations, in the broadcast television bands and in the post-incentive auction 600 MHz band.
The auction band plan specifies separate uplink and downlink bands, with an 11 MHz “mid-band gap” in between. 4 MHz of this gap will be reserved specifically for licensed wireless microphone users. An additional 6 MHz is also available on a shared basis for both wireless microphones and unlicensed “white space” devices. In both cases, transmit power for wireless microphones is limited to 20 mW.
Wireless microphones may also operate in an additional 6-11 MHz guard band between the auctioned spectrum and the upper boundary of the new TV band, on a shared basis with unlicensed “white space” devices.
Existing Part 74 rules governing wireless microphone operation in the remaining UHF-TV spectrum remain unchanged. Wireless microphones may continue to operate in any unoccupied TV channel on a shared basis with unlicensed devices. The Commission expects that at least one unoccupied TV channel will remain available in each broadcast market. Reservation of these channels for interference protection at specific times and locations will still be possible, for licensed users, using the nationwide geo-location databases.
The Report and Order calls for a 39-month transition period, to begin upon issuance of a Public Notice that details the new spectrum band plan. This Public Notice is expected 3 – 6 months after completion of the auction. Auction winners may commence operation at any point during this transition period, as spectrum is cleared. Wireless microphone users may continue operating equipment in the 600 MHz band during the transition, but they are required to consult the official FCC databases to determine when portions of the spectrum become unavailable and cease operation on affected frequencies at that point.