The FCC’s Plans for 12.7–13.25 GHz: Implications and Recommendations for Broadcasters
Last May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing changes to the 12.7–13.25 GHz band. This band has traditionally been used for various purposes, including broadcast auxiliary services (BAS) such as studio-transmitter links (STLs), intercity relays (ICRs), electronic newsgathering (ENG) and other fixed and mobile services. This NPRM, similar to previous spectrum repurposing initiatives like the broadcast television incentive auction and the 6 GHz band, has significant implications for broadcasters. In this blog, we summarize the key points of the NPRM, explain why broadcasters should retain their 13 GHz equipment and emphasize the importance of certifying license accuracy or correcting inaccuracies.
Important: You must take action by November 29 or you may lose interference protection and, ultimately, your 13 GHz licenses.
Background: The Spectrum Repurposing Initiative
Spectrum repurposing refers to the process of reallocating portions of the radio frequency spectrum for different uses or services. The FCC often undertakes such initiatives to accommodate emerging technologies, increase spectrum efficiency and meet growing demand for wireless services. One such initiative was the repurposing of the 6 GHz band, which affected various stakeholders, including broadcasters. The present NPRM signals the FCC’s interest in opening the 13 GHz band as spectrum to support the next “G” wireless technology. An auction of that spectrum is likely.
The Proposed Changes
The NPRM outlines the potential repurposing of the 12.7-13.25 GHz band. The proposed changes aim to make this spectrum available for emerging technologies and services, such as mobile satellite services and 6G personal communications services (PCS). While this represents an opportunity for innovation and expansion, it also poses challenges for current spectrum users, particularly broadcasters, since the new services may be incompatible with BAS.
Do it Now: Certify or Correct Licenses ASAP
The Importance of License Accuracy Certification
The FCC recently issued a Public Notice that requires substantially all 13 GHz licensees to certify that the information reflected on their license is accurate and complete and that the facilities are operating as authorized. Broadcasters must always pay close attention to the accuracy of their licenses in the 13 GHz band (as well as other bands), but sometimes changes (such as antenna reorientation or replacement, conversion from analog to digital modulation, etc.) are made without the required licensed modification application being filed. Certifying the accuracy of licenses and confirming active 13 GHz usage is both required by the FCC and crucial to continued BAS operation. Here’s why:
Transition Planning: Accurate license information is essential for planning the upcoming spectrum transition. The costs of relocating BAS operations in the 13 GHz band are likely to be borne by the winners of a spectrum auction, but only if that information is accurate. Bidders in spectrum auctions must understand precisely what they are buying, including both the amount of spectrum and the cost of relocating incumbent users. If incumbent information is inaccurate then bidders can argue that the FCC didn’t deliver the “goods” (spectrum) they paid for. Accurate license information provides the foundation for effective transition planning, ensuring that both new users and broadcasters can navigate changes seamlessly.
Spectrum Management: Accurate licenses facilitate efficient spectrum management. The FCC relies on the information provided by licensees to coordinate spectrum usage, prevent interference and allocate frequencies effectively. Inaccurate licenses can lead to spectrum inefficiency and potential conflicts with other services. Some BAS users will likely be repacked within the 13 GHz band and repacking calculations require accurate data about the actual facilities of the BAS system.
Compliance with Regulations: The FCC’s rules and regulations evolve in response to changing technological landscapes and spectrum allocation. Broadcasters must ensure that their licenses align with current regulations to remain compliant with FCC requirements. Failure to do so can result in licensing issues, enforcement actions or interference disputes.
What if my License is Wrong?
Broadcasters who discover inaccuracies or outdated information in their licenses should take immediate corrective action. Modification applications must be filed by November 29. There are restrictions as to how much a license can be modified. Contact NAB, your consulting engineer or your communications lawyer for details. Correcting licenses as soon as possible is essential to:
Maintain Compliance: Timely corrections help broadcasters maintain compliance with FCC regulations, reducing the risk of regulatory violations and associated penalties.
Smooth Transition: Inaccurate licenses can complicate the transition process during spectrum repurposing. Correcting licenses early ensures that broadcasters are well-prepared for any changes in spectrum allocation. Operation at variance with the data on the license risks ineligibility for reimbursement.
Avoid Interference: Accurate licenses are crucial for preventing interference with other spectrum users. Ensuring that licenses reflect current operations minimizes the risk of causing harmful interference to neighboring services, including new users.
Inventory Your Gear: Why Broadcasters Should Retain Their 13 GHz Equipment
Maximize Your Eligibility for Reimbursement: In addition to certifying that the information on your license is correct, you should take stock all of your 13 GHz gear, even if it is used only as a backup. During the repurposing process, the FCC may offer compensation to current spectrum users who might be displaced or incur costs due to the transition. This could include costs associated with equipment replacement (including backup equipment that is in storage), relocation to other frequency bands or media (such as dark fiber) or other expenses related to the spectrum shift. In the past, the FCC has required a visual inspection of all equipment that is claimed for replacement.
Ensuring Operational Flexibility: Retaining 13 GHz equipment also ensures operational flexibility. Even if broadcasters use 13 GHz equipment sporadically, it can serve as a valuable backup or contingency option to BAS operations in other spectrum bands, such as 2 or 6 GHz, where new unlicensed operations may complicate BAS use. In situations where unexpected changes in spectrum allocation occur, having operational equipment readily available can help broadcasters maintain uninterrupted services and respond to evolving conditions.
The FCC’s NPRM in Docket 22-352 indicates that the 12.7–13.25 GHz band may undergo repurposing, similar to previous initiatives in the 6 GHz band, the UHF-TV band and elsewhere. Broadcasters should recognize the potential impact of these changes on their operations and take proactive steps to protect their interests. Retaining 13 GHz equipment, certifying license accuracy and promptly correcting license technical information when needed are vital strategies for broadcasters to navigate this evolving spectrum landscape effectively. By doing so, broadcasters can ensure operational continuity, remain compliant with FCC regulations and position themselves to take full advantage of potential reimbursement opportunities during the repurposing process.