News Ticker

Senate Dems urge “extreme caution” on duplex gap

A group of five Democratic Senators warned Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler that putting TV broadcasters in the duplex gap could inhibit live, local news, emergency communications and space for unlicensed uses.

The FCC is set to vote Thursday on spectrum auction procedures which includes a proposal that would allow it to repack TV stations in the duplex gap, the 11 MHz of space between the uplink and downlink frequencies in the mobile spectrum.

Stopping short of recommending a specific course, Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.) urged Wheeler Tuesday to proceed with “extreme caution.”

“This proposal would deny millions of Americans the innovative promise of unlicensed spectrum and the economic benefit it brings. Furthermore, it would inhibit live news coverage and emergency communications by leaving local broadcasters in some markets with no reserved spectrum for the wireless microphones that are essential to expand the availability of unlicensed spectrum,” the Senators wrote.

The duplex gap proposal is not popular with any of stakeholders in the incentive auction—broadcasters, public interest groups, and the wireless industry—but Wheeler insists he needs to keep it open as an option. If fewer broadcasters participate in the auction, there could more stations that would need to be repacked in a smaller portion of the TV band.

Wheeler has downplayed the potential effects of the option, saying that only six markets might be affected. The National Association of Broadcasters heard Wheeler, offering a compromise that would limit the number of markets where one TV broadcasters might be placed in the duplex gap to six.

“NAB is taking [Wheeler] at his word that six is the total number of markets they will impair. It’s not a great outcome for us. But if he means what he says, we’ll move forward,” said Rick Kaplan, NAB’s general counsel and executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs.