FCC takes closer look at White Spaces issue

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Sports RF professionals and TV broadcasters who fought the good fight against impending Federal legislation that would allow for unlicensed consumer devices to be operated in White Spaces spectrum scored a victory when the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice stating that it needs additional technical information concerning unlicensed devices in the TV band.

The move by the FCC effectively tables any plans to pass laws that would allow unlicensed devices into White Spaces spectrum.

“This is good news,” says Dave Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Services Television (MSTV), an organization that has been instrumental in the fight for spectrum integrity. “The bottom line is this a very technical issue and it deserves to be resolved by the experts at the FCC. We’re looking forward to working with them.”

The FCC says that after reviewing comments from broadcasters, other TV spectrum users and manufacturers and users of unlicensed devices it did not have enough information to adopt final technical rules. At the center of its decision was a lack-of-trust in auto-sensing technology that consumer electronics proponents have said would ensure unlicensed devices would not interfere with licensed devices.

“There is no information in the record as to key criteria that would need to be specified to allow the use of that technique, such as the required levels for sensing, spectrum to be scanned, and durations for the sensing,” the FCC said in a statement. “Accordingly, the Office of Engineering and Technology is developing a First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making that would make initial decisions and specific technical proposals necessary to adopt complete and final rules.”

Donovan says the FCC’s timetable, while aggressive, will do the right things. “It allows for examining a baseline of interference for TV receivers and asking those who are promoting allowing unlicensed devices to have those devices tested before final approval,” he says.

The FCC says the proposed schedule provides sufficient time to develop appropriate technical standards to prevent interference to TV broadcasting and other services, as well as sufficient lead time for industry to design and produce new unlicensed products that would be available for sale to the public at the completion of the DTV transition on February 17, 2009.

“All the rhetoric and politics is about who can scream the loudest and lobbyists for the telcos and others have done a better job than those who make a living working with wireless technologies,” says Lou Libin, president of Broad Comm. “But industry gatherings have helped us get heard.”

Libin and Donovan urge those who have been involved with the fight to remain diligent. “This is just the beginning,” says Libin. “Even though we’re happy we can’t sit back and relax. It just means that after 15 years of calling [the FCC] there is finally someone else on the other end of the line. It means some momentum in credibility.”

The industry, says Libin, needs to continue to sound the alarm and work as a group to make sure the news, sports and live performance needs continue to be considered in future legislation.

“We’re getting better at frequency co-ordination but we need to let the Federal government know how hard it is and that, at one point, it will be nearly impossible,” says Libin.

Fred Fellmeth,