FCC considering noncom-commercial channel sharing

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Think the DTV transition complicated life at your station? Just wait for the FCC’s spectrum repacking and stacking.

In a crowded session at the NETA conference today (Jan. 12), CPB, APTS and PBS reps detailed the challenges that await pubcasters. “All stations will be impacted,” even those that don’t participate in an anticipated spectrum auction (Current, Feb. 8, 2010), said Mark Erstling, CPB’s v.p. for system development and media strategy. The shift in channels “will have a cascading effect” on channels nationwide, he said. As John McCoskey, head of PBS technology, added, “It’ll be a big turn of the crank that will shuffle stations across country.”

The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in November requesting comments on its ideas to free up spectrum for mobile devices. Of the 294 MHz used by broadcasters, the FCC would like stations to voluntarily return 102 MHz. It wants to repack (remove and shift) as well as stack (facilitate sharing) channels.

One of its ideas is for stations to share channels – even allowing commercial and noncoms to do so. It’s looking at how much loss of universal service might occur if shared channels are allowed. And what would a shared channel do to the quality of digital services and HD? Does this imply the elimination of multicast channels? What happens at those stations that made promises to provide certain services on those multicast channels in return for DTV funding? What about PBS requirements on signal quality, or CPB rules on full service? “These are big-picture questions,” Erstling said.

The NPRM has yet to be published in the Federal Register, which triggers the deadline for comments to be filed.