This week the United Kingdom completed its five-year transition from analog to digital broadcast television operations. The switch to digital has allowed broadcasters in the UK to offer more channels and high-definition television services to the public. In addition, the transition freed up spectrum that the UK government will auction for fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband services in the upcoming year.
Full-power television broadcasters in the United States completed the transition from digital to analog operations in June 2009, and all low-power television stations are required to make the switch by September 1, 2015. As in the UK, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned much of the spectrum reclaimed as a result of the digital television transition — known as the “700 MHz” spectrum — to wireless carriers for mobile broadband. Other 700 MHz spectrum also was set aside spectrum for public safety services, including for a nationwide interoperable broadband network; earlier this year Congress set aside funding from future spectrum auctions to build that network.
Less than five years later, the FCC is looking to reclaim even more spectrum from television broadcasters. As we have blogged about here, here, and here, the FCC has initiated a proceeding to hold a first-of-its-kind incentive auction made up of three parts: (1) a reverse auction, in which broadcasters may bid to sell spectrum rights; (2) a forward auction, in which mobile carriers may bid to purchase spectrum rights; and (3) a repacking process, in which the FCC will reconfigure the remaining broadcast television allotments to take up a smaller portion of the UHF band ― thereby maximizing the amount of spectrum that could be made available in the forward auction. The FCC has initiated a proceeding to develop rules and procedures for all three of these elements, but a decision is not expected until mid-2013 at the earliest.