Spectrum Act and Broadcast Incentive Auction
To make additional licensed wireless spectrum available, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (the “Spectrum Act”) authorized the FCC to conduct an incentive auction to repurpose broadcast television spectrum. The incentive auction was comprised of three separate, but interdependent, parts: (1) a “reverse auction” in which broadcast television licensees submitted bids to voluntarily relinquish their spectrum usage rights in exchange for payments; (2) a reorganization or “repacking” of the broadcast television bands in order to free up a portion of the ultra-high frequency (“UHF”) band for other uses; and (3) a “forward auction” of wireless licenses for flexible use of the newly available spectrum. See FCC 14-50. Additional information about the incentive auction is available on the Broadcast Incentive Auction website.
The incentive auction bidding closed on March 30, 2017, repurposing 84 megahertz of low band spectrum for both licensed use and unlicensed use. The incentive auction yielded $19.8 billion in revenue, including $10.05 billion for winning broadcast bidders and more than $7 billion for deficit reduction. Winning bidder information for both the reverse and forward auctions is available on the Incentive Auction Dashboard. See also DA 17-314.
600 MHz Band Plan and License Information
The post-incentive auction 600 MHz band plan (614-698 MHz) resulted in 70 megahertz of spectrum for licensed wireless operations. The 70 megahertz of wireless spectrum consists of seven paired five-megahertz blocks, with each block having five megahertz in the uplink band (663-698 MHz) and five megahertz in the downlink band (617-652 MHz). These 5+5 megahertz blocks are licensed by Partial Economic Areas (“PEAs”). See DA 17-314. Licensed 600 MHz wireless operations are not permitted to operate in the duplex gap (652-663 MHz) or the guard band (614-617 MHz), which are utilized for wireless microphones and unlicensed operations.
The 600 MHz band is licensed under Part 27 of the FCC’s rules. The initial 600 MHz licenses are valid for twelve years, and eligible for subsequent 10-year renewal terms. Within six years of the initial license grant, a licensee must provide reliable signal coverage and offer wireless service to at least 40 percent of the population in each of its license areas. Within twelve years of initial license grant (or at the end of the license term), a licensee must provide reliable signal coverage and offer wireless service to at least 75 percent of the population in each of its license areas. For more information regarding 600 MHz band service rules, see FCC 14-50. Some 600 MHz licenses were auctioned as part of a market-based spectrum reserve. These “reserve” licenses are subject to an initial six-year holding period during which they cannot be transferred to a non-reserve eligible entity. See FCC 14-63.
600 MHz Band Transition
On April 13, 2017, the FCC began the 39-month transition period during which the broadcast licensees will vacate the 600 MHz band. 600 MHz wireless licensees will not have access to the repurposed spectrum during this post-auction transition period if full power or Class A television operations are operating in their licensed area. See FCC 15-140; DA 17-314.
In addition, the FCC has adopted rules that, under certain conditions, allow low power television and TV translator stations, fixed broadcast auxiliary service operations, and unlicensed white space devices (collectively, “secondary and unlicensed users”) to continue operating in the 600 MHz band after the spectrum has been licensed to new 600 MHz wireless licensees. Secondary and unlicensed users must vacate the band once the wireless licensee “commences operations” in its licensed 600 MHz spectrum or, for those operating in the 600 MHz guard bands, no later than the end of the 39-month post-auction transition period. See FCC 15-140; DA 17-314; DA 19-68. More information on the post-auction transition, along with a transition schedule, is available on the FCC’s Broadcast Incentive Auction Post-Auction Transition website.