television white spaces

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions and developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released the agenda and items to be considered at its October 27 Open Meeting.

The FCC’s proposal to expand the use of Distributed Transmission Systems by television stations operating with the new ATSC 3.0 transmission system was published in the Federal Register today (here). That publication announces that the comment deadlines on the FCC’s DTS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking are due by Friday, June 12, 2020, and reply comments will be due by Monday, July 13, 2020.  While we mentioned this proposal in passing when discussing a proposal to allow FM stations to use boosters to provide an FM version of a distributed transmission system, we have not written in detail about this proposal.  With the comment deadline now set, let’s look at some of the questions asked in the rulemaking proposal.

First, it is worth explaining the concept of a distributed transmission system (sometimes referred to as a “single frequency network” as it uses multiple stations on the same frequency to reach its audience).  Traditionally, television stations have operated with a single high-power transmitter from a location central to their coverage area.  Thus, viewers close to the transmitter get the strongest signal, and that signal dissipates the further that a viewer gets from that central transmitter site.  Station signals are protected from interference to a certain contour where it is assumed that the majority of viewers will be able to receive over-the-air an acceptable signal most of the time.  But even at the edge of these protected contours, the FCC’s projections assume that many viewers will not be able to receive an acceptable signal at all times.  Distributed transmission systems are already in use by television stations in certain markets to fill in holes in station coverage – and have been particularly useful in markets with irregular terrain where mountains or other obstructions preclude one centrally located transmitter from reaching audiences far from the transmitter site.  Locating a second transmitter on the same frequency behind the terrain obstruction allows better reception for viewers who might otherwise not receive an acceptable over-the-air signal. However, currently, the DTS transmitters cannot extend the noise-limited protected contour of a station “more than a minimal amount” beyond that which the TV station would be predicted to have from a single centrally-located transmitter site.  The NPRM in this proceeding, based on a petition filed by the NAB and America’s Public Television Stations (see our article here on the Petition for Rulemaking filed by these groups), looks to allow for wider use of DTS.
Continue Reading Comments Due June 12 on Proposal to Expand the Use of Distributed Transmission Systems by TV Stations Operating with ATSC 3.0 Transmission Systems – What is Being Asked?

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing greater coverage areas for unlicensed “white space” devices operating in the TV bands was adopted at the FCC’s open meeting last week and released earlier this week.   We have written about these white space devices before (see, for instance, our articles here and here).  These devices operate at relatively low powers in unused portions of the TV bands.  They are designed to offer wireless services, including broadband.  Advocates of these operations see them as an inexpensive way to offer broadband services to underserved areas, including parts of rural America.

The concern of course with these devices is that if their use is not managed correctly, their operations could interfere with existing TV operators (including LPTVs, TV translators, broadcast auxiliary services, and wireless microphones).  Thus far, operations have been limited to power levels of 10 watts or less from antenna heights that did not exceed 250 meters height above average terrain.  The advocates for these devices, including Microsoft, have argued that these low power levels make it difficult to serve rural areas given their small coverage area.  NAB, on behalf of broadcasters, and advocates for wireless microphone operators, have urged caution in any increase in the coverage of these operations if they could possibly cause interference to existing users of the spectrum.  After significant discussion and compromise between the NAB and Microsoft, the NPRM adopted last week tries to strike a balance between these positions.
Continue Reading FCC Adopts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Looking to Allow Higher Power and Greater Height for Unlicensed White Space Devices Operating in the TV Bands

While many broadcasters have been watching Capitol Hill as Congress debates the issues surrounding the extension of satellite TV’s copyright permission to retransmit over-the-air television signals, and the attempts to add other provisions to the bill that could affect television stations, there are a number of issues teed up at the FCC that could also affect the industry.  In the tentative agenda for the September 30 FCC open meeting, there are two issues being considered that have impact on TV.  One has received much press coverage is the repeal of the sports blackout rule that leads to the blackout of local coverage of NFL games when the game is not sold out.  From a blog post by the Chairman (available here), and statements of other commissioners, it appears that this rule is headed for repeal – though the actual blackouts may continue by contract rather than FCC mandate. 

The other issue on the agenda that has received less press, and about which less is known, is changes to the rules on white-spaces devices, those wireless devices that have been authorized to operate on a non-interference basis in the portions of the TV band that are not being used in particular markets.  We wrote about the adoption of the current rules, here, and we will be watching to see what changes to these rules are adopted later this month.  Also on the agenda, with possible relevance to television and other media companies, is an item to further consider how to regulate the use of wireless microphones.
Continue Reading FCC Action on TV Issues Coming Soon – Sports Blackout Rule, White Spaces, Post-Auction Treatment of LPTV and TV Translators, and OET-69 Revisions

A year after the FCC issued its order adopting the "White Spaces" proposals (about which we wrote here and here), to allow wireless devices to operate in unused portions of the television band on a non-interference basis, the FCC took its first steps toward actual implementation of that order by issuing a request for Proposals from entities wishing to be considered for the position of Database Manager.  This Database Manager will play a very important role in the implementation of the White Spaces order, as it will identify all of the current operators in the TV band that the new wireless devices will have to protect while operating in a given region.  In its White Spaces order, the FCC concluded that not all of these devices could, on their own, adequately sense where there were TV stations or other spectrum users that needed to be protected.  Thus, the White Spaces devices need to be able to communicate with the database to be maintained by the Manager, to make sure that they are operating on clear portions of the television spectrum.  White Spaces devices need to protect not only full power TV stations, but also Low Power TV stations and TV translators, as well as the path between a full-power TV station and any translator that rebroadcasts that stationCable system headends which pick up TV signals must also be protected, as well as land mobile users who use portions of the TV band.  Certain regular users of wireless microphones also need to be protected – so the database will need to be very detailed to give the White Spaces devices access to information about all of these existing users who must be protected.

In its Request for Proposal, the FCC has asked that proposed Database Managers provide extensive information by the January 4, 2010 filing deadline.  Information requested includes the following:

1. The entity must demonstrate that it possesses sufficient technical expertise to administer a TV band database. It must demonstrate that it has a viable business plan to operate a database for the five-year term the rules. To the extent that the proponent will rely on fees from registrations or queries, the proposal should describe the fee collection process.

2. The entity must describe in detail the scope of the database functions that it intends to perform, such as managing a data repository, performing calculations to determine available channels, and/or registering fixed unlicensed devices and licensed services not listed in the Commission’s databases, or how it will have functions performed in a secure and reliable manner by another entity. The entity must also describe how data will be synchronized between multiple databases if multiple databases are authorized and how quickly this synchronization of data will be accomplished.

3. The entity must provide diagrams showing the architecture of the database system and a detailed description of how each function operates and how each function interacts with the other functions.

4. If the entity will not be performing all database functions, it must provide information on the entities operating other functions and the business relationship between itself and these other entities. In particular, it must address how the Commission can ensure that all of the requirements for TV band database administrators in the rules are satisfied when database functions are divided among multiple entities, including a description of how data will be transferred among these various related entities and other databases if multiple databases are authorized and the expected schedule of such data transfers (e.g. real-time, once an hour, etc.)

5.  The entity must describe the methods that will be used by TV band devices to communicate with the database and the procedures, if any, that it plans to use to verify that a device can properly communicate with the database. It must include a description of the security methods that will be used to ensure that unauthorized parties can not access or alter the database or otherwise corrupt the operation of the database system in performing its intended functions. In addition, the entity should describe whether and how security methods will be used to verify that Mode I personal/portable devices that rely on another device for their geographic location information have received equipment authorization, interfaces, protocols) that will be used by TV band devices to communicate with the database and the procedures, if any, that it plans to use to verify that a device can properly communicate with the database. It must include a description of the security methods that will be used to ensure that unauthorized parties can not access or alter the database or otherwise corrupt the operation of the database system in performing its intended functions. In addition, the entity should describe whether and how security methods will be used to verify that Mode I personal/portable devices that rely on another device for their geographic location information have received equipment authorization.


Continue Reading FCC Starts Next Step of TV White Spaces Deployment – Issues RFP for Database Manager to Track Interference Concerns