Wireless Industry, L.A. Stations Launch Channel-Sharing Test

Test could convince more broadcasters to give up spectrum

The wireless industry, crying out for more spectrum, has managed to convince two Los Angeles broadcasters to test out channel sharing, where two TV stations would broadcast over the same chunk of spectrum formerly occupied by one TV station.

CTIA-The Wireless Association announced today that KLCS—the market's PBS station—and Hispanic station KJLA would test during the first quarter of this year whether or not the two stations could share a channel without compromising content quality or impacting viewers.

The pilot test could be critical to the ultimate success of the FCC's auction of wireless spectrum planned for 2015. If it's a success, perhaps more broadcasters would voluntarily give up some of their spectrum for auction to wireless companies that say that need more spectrum to serve the ever-growing mobile population.

Since CES, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has been using his bully pulpit to pitch hard to broadcasters that they should relinquish at least some of their spectrum for auction, calling it a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

"Channel sharing represents a unique option for broadcasters that wish to continue to broadcast over-the-air programming, while also taking advantage of the incentive auction's once-in-a-lifetime financial opportunity," said an FCC spokesperson. "We welcome this pilot project proposal, and look forward to reviewing it closely."

Although the FCC approved rules for channel sharing in 2012, broadcasters have yet to warm to the concept of giving up valuable spectrum, especially when they need all the spectrum for HD as well. As one broadcaster put it, a station may get away with airing a sitcom in standard definition, but not Monday night football.

"On a technical level, one of the main challenges of channel sharing concerns the ability of the sharers to offer new and innovative services as they are limiting their available spectrum. On the business side, there are difficult contractual provisions that would need to be addressed. We will continue to work with any interested parties to make the process as simple as possible should stations seek to go this route," said Dennis Wharton, evp of the National Association of Broadcasters.