Broadcast Internet Could Become a Rural Mid-band Option

Randy Sukow


The FCC this week published a “Declaratory Ruling” confirming that broadcast TV stations may lease part of their spectrum capacity to third-party entities for the purpose of fixed wireless internet service. The ability to segment portions of the standard 6 MHz TV channel for datacasting (known as “broadcast internet”) is one of the features of “NextGen TV” ATSC 3.0 technology now being deployed. The ruling establishes current broadcast TV spectrum as a potential long-term middle-band spectrum option for wireless broadband providers.

“An ATSC 3.0 signal can offer broadband-speed downloads, which may help reduce consumer costs for internet services, and its propagation characteristics make it well suited for underserved rural communities,” the FCC said.

The ruling seeks to remove uncertainty surrounding the novel uses of ATSC 3.0. “Specifically, we clarify that long-standing television station ownership restrictions do not apply to the lease of spectrum to provide broadcast internet services,” the FCC said. “By taking this step today, we help ensure that market forces, and not television station ownership rules that were written for different services, are brought to bear on and determine the success of the nascent broadcast internet segment.”

Later in the document, the FCC says that it foresees use of broadcast internet spectrum as a “complement the nation’s burgeoning 5G network.” Wireless providers using the broadcast internet channel could greatly increase capacity on their downstream channels. The clarification goes on to specify that stations may lease capacity to other broadcast TV stations as well as to third parties, including TV stations in their own geographic area.

Broadcast internet spectrum is just one of the emerging middle-band options the FCC is offering. Starting on Thursday, July 23, the Commission will begin the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) for priority access to spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. A total of 271 bidders are eligible to bid in that auction, including several rural telephone and electric companies.

The FCC also announced this week that it tentatively plans to consider the final procedures for the C-band (3.7–3.98 GHz) auction scheduled to being Dec. 8.  “To spur the deployment of ultra-fast, world-leading 5G networks, we need to make C-band spectrum [among other spectrum bands] available as quickly as possible. If the Commission adopts this plan to launch this auction in December, barely nine months after adopting rules, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing,” Chairman Ajit Pai said in a blog post.

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