One of the last questions about the repacking of the television spectrum following the television incentive auction was whether there would be a UHF television channel set aside in each television market for unlicensed wireless uses. Microsoft and other tech companies have been pushing for that set aside for years, arguing that more capacity for wi-fi-like services and wireless microphones was needed. These parties argued that there was room in the television spectrum for the set aside of a single 6 MHz channel in every market for these unlicensed wireless uses that would be protected from encroachment by new or modified TV operations. The broadcast industry naturally opposed this proposal which would further diminish the already curtailed television spectrum. Yesterday, the FCC finally decided the question by closing the proceeding without taking any action to set aside any channel for these wireless users.
In terminating the proceeding, the FCC looked at the TV spectrum following the repack and determined that there were numerous TV markets in which there was no vacant UHF channel to dedicate to these wireless users. There was certainly no vacant channel that could be consistently used across the country so that manufacturers of equipment would have a nationwide dedicated channel for certainty as to where their devices would work. In addition, since the proposal was first advanced, other spectrum has been made available by the FCC for unlicensed wireless users. Even in the spectrum used by TV stations, white spaces devices are allowed to operate where they do not cause interference to existing TV stations (see our articles here, here, and here). Because of these developments, and the burdens that protecting a channel for unlicensed wireless users would put on continuing TV operations and the expansion of such operations (e.g. though the use of DTS, see our article here), the FCC decided to terminate the ongoing proceeding without taking any action on the proposals that had been made. This appears to have been a unanimous decision of the Commission, so it is one unlikely to be revisited by any new FCC after the change of administration.