First off, you’ll want a copy for yourself. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The other day I was perusing “The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012” because of a requirement in one section dealing with amateur radio communications. (We use amateur radio in some of our hospital disaster plans.)
While flipping through the pages, the following quote in another section (6403) about the “incentive auction” of the broadcast TV spectrum caught my eye:
(iii) a channel 37 incumbent user, in order to relocate to other suitable spectrum, provided that all such users can be relocated and that the total relocation costs of such users do not exceed $300,000,000. For the purpose of this section, the spectrum made available through relocation of channel 37 incumbent users shall be deemed as spectrum reclaimed through a reverse auction under section 6403(a).
For those who don’t remember, TV channel 37 was designated as half of the radio spectrum available for the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service (WMTS).
For various reasons, I spend a LOT of my time reading federal regulations. The act is undoubtedly one of the more obfuscated documents I’ve read, but here is what I can tell you:
The act consists of several sections, but Title VI, “Public Safety Communications And Electromagnetic Spectrum Auctions,” is what interests us. Ostensibly, it’s written to reallocate radio spectrum for the establishment of a national first responder network. It also calls for “incentivizing” broadcast stations to free up spectrum, especially after the analog to digital television conversion a few years ago. It seems most of that latter spectrum would go for developing broadband wireless, though that isn’t explicitly discussed. And this is where the TV channel 37 section is located. Yes, this means that at some point, half of the spectrum for WMTS telemetry is to be auctioned away, apparently so your iPhone will work better. The act mentions nothing more about where, when, or how “other suitable spectrum” will be found.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) database, there are no licensed broadcast stations in the U.S., its territories, or possessions operating on TV channel 37 and there never has been. Until the creation of the WMTS, this channel was reserved exclusively for radio astronomy users. So, who exactly did members of Congress have in mind when they wrote this bill, which was later signed into law? It would appear that hospitals are the “incumbent users” described here. (Of course, one also wonders what will become of the radio astronomy sites.)
When will this happen? That isn’t clear. The best I can make of it, the FCC was supposed to begin working on this as soon as the bill became law on Feb. 22, 2012 and must be finished with everyone moved by 2022.
What must be done seems much clearer to me. First, we must speak through our industry groups, including AAMI, ECRI, ASHE, ACCE, directly to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), FCC, and our elected representatives who created this bill. We must demand the government, especially the FCC and the FDA, create an oversight group to provide input into this process. It was done for the creation of the WMTS and it must be done again.