LA TV stations free up airwaves for wireless broadband

Two local TV stations will consolidate onto a single channel, freeing up space for new wireless broadband services

An effort to free up some of the airwaves used by TV broadcasts and make them available for wireless broadband took a big step forward this week in the U.S.

Two TV stations in Los Angeles, KLCS and KCET, have agreed to share a single frequency to deliver their programming, freeing up a channel that can be auctioned off to wireless carriers next year.

The change, which the Federal Communications Commission calls "repackaging," is possible because digital TV broadcasts don't need the full 6MHz of broadcast spectrum that was used for analog TV. Today, some stations use the extra space to broadcast additional subchannels while others let it go to waste.

The FCC is hoping to entice local broadcasters to give up unused spectrum in return for cash. Finding a partner to share a single frequency with, as happened in Los Angeles, is one way this can be done. Stations can also elect to move to a new frequency lower down in the broadcasting band, or simply go off the air.

KLCS is a local PBS affiliate on channel 41 and KCET is an independent public TV station on channel 28. Both broadcast a number of subchannels, and the agreement could mean some of those additional services going off the air, but a KCET spokeswoman said that is yet to be determined.

The FCC is facing opposition to the auction plan from the National Association of Broadcasters, which has filed a lawsuit against it in Washington, D.C., complaining that many TV stations would end up with reduced coverage areas during the repackaging, or as a result of being assigned to new broadcast channels.

So this week's agreement is good news for the FCC, especially as it's happening in the second-biggest TV market in the country, after New York City.

"It's a compelling opportunity for broadcasters to continue their existing business on a shared channel, and take home a check for the spectrum they relinquish in the incentive auction," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "It is my hope that other broadcasters give it careful consideration as well."

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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