On Friday, the FCC issued a public notice promising further testing of "white spaces" devices. As we’ve written before, these devices are being promoted by many of the largest tech companies as ways to make more efficient use of the television spectrum by using low power wireless devices within that spectrum in places where those devices would not interfere with the operation of television reception. The National Association of Broadcasters and other television groups have opposed allowing such operations for fear that they will cause interference to broadcast stations. Especially during the digital transition, when listening habits are just being worked out and new digital televisions are just being purchase and installed by users, and because interference to a digital television station does not result in "snow" as in the analog world, but instead no picture at all, broadcasters fear that these devices could severely impact the success of the digital transition.
In August, as we wrote here, the FCC released the first results of its interference studies, finding the potential for severe interference to television broadcasters. While broadcast groups trumpeted these tests as proof of their fears, many of the tech companies claimed that the testing was flawed, using at least one device that was malfunctioning. The tech companies essentially asked for a "do over," while the broadcasters argued that, even if a tested device was malfunctioning, that malfunction itself was enough to demonstrate that the devices are not reliable enough to protect television operations during this sensitive transition.
The NAB recently ran radio ads in DC opposing the white spaces initiative, held a press conference with members of sports organizations which also oppose the initiative (interference to wireless microphones is also feared), and otherwise signified broadcasters’ opposition to the re-initiation of the FCC inquiry. Both sides have been lobbying on Capitol Hill and at the FCC on this issue. The Public Notice demonstrates that the issue is not dead, and the FCC will continue its review of the white spaces proposal.
The Public Notice does not make any pronouncements about when the testing would occur, how long it would take, or when any decision could be expected out of the FCC on the issue. It does not even indicate what devices will be tested – requesting that interested parties contact the FCC if they have devices that they want tested. The issue is clearly one that will continue to be debated in Washington, and one that should be followed carefully both by broadcasters concerned about spectrum interference issues, and by tech companies looking for more access to spectrum for their wireless communications needs. It is a war that likely still has many battles to be fought.