The FCC’s long-awaited White Spaces decision, revisiting its authorization of the operation of unlicensed wireless devices in the television spectrum (see our summaries of the intial order here and here), has finally been released.  The FCC decision and associated comments of the Commissioners promise Super Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi on Steroids, and a host of other wireless digital marvels, without significantly interfering with the incumbent users of the spectrum (principally TV stations and wireless microphone users).  In this order on reconsideration, the FCC addresses many issues raised by many parties to the proceeding – some suggesting that the FCC has not sufficiently protected the incumbent users, while others arguing that the limitations on wireless users are too onerous.  For broadcasters, some of the highlights of the decision include:

  • No change in the interference protections given to TV broadcasters.  Some had suggested the use of various alternative propagation methods to be used instead of the standard FCC method of predicting the protected contours of television stations.  The FCC rejected these proposals, finding that alternatives would not be more accurate in predicting potential interference.  One minor correction including in the database that will be used by wireless devices to protect stations from interference will be included – information on a television station’s antenna beam tilt.
  • No change in the protection of LPTV station protected contours.  LPTV advocates had suggested that greater protection was required for LPTV stations that were still operating in an analog mode.  This was rejected by the Commission, given the impending digital transition for LPTV (see our summary of the LPTV digital transition, here)
  • Greater protection was afforded to cable headends, TV translator receive sites, and the receive locations for Satellite television providers (like DISH and DIRECTV) and other Multichannel Video Providers (MVPDs), so that existing television reception, no matter how it is received will be protected.  The current rules provide that such sites within 80 km from the edge of a television station’s protected contour can register in the database to be used by white spaces devices to determine where they can operate.  The Commission recognized that sites beyond that 80 km distance may also need protection.  Such sites can petition the FCC for waiver of the 80 km distance within 90 days of the effective date of this order, and the FCC will seek comment on whether or not to accord the site protection.  New sites need to register within 90 days of being put into service. 

Some of the other issues addressed by the Commission, including a big change in how these devices will operate to prevent interference, are summarized below.


Continue Reading Reconsideration of White Spaces Decision – FCC Approves Unlicensed Devices for “Super Wi-Fi” in TV Band

Another year is upon us, and it’s time for predictions as to what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2010.  Each year, when we look at what might be coming, we are amazed at the number of issues that could affect the industry – often issues that are the same year to year as final decisions are often hard to come by in Washington with the interplay between the FCC and other government agencies, the courts and Congress. This year, as usual, we see a whole list of issues, many of which remain from prior years. But this year is different, as we have had a list topped by issues such as the suggestion that television spectrum be reallotted for wireless uses and the radio performance royalty, that could fundamentally affect the broadcast business.  The new administration at the FCC is only beginning to get down to business, having filling most of the decision-making positions at the Commission.  Thus far, its attention has been focused on broadband, working diligently to complete a report to Congress on plans for implementation of a national broadband plan, a report that is required to be issued in February.  But, from what little we have seen from the new Commission and its employees, there seems to be a willingness to reexamine many of the fundamental tenants of broadcasting.  And Congress is not shy about offering its own opinions on how to make broadcasting "better."  This willingness to reexamine some of the most fundamental tenets of broadcasting should make this a most interesting, and potentially frightening, year. Some of the issues to likely be facing television, radio and the broadcasting industry generally are set out below.

Television Issues.

In the television world, at this time last year, we were discussing the end of the digital television transition, and expressing the concern of broadcasters about the FCC’s White Spaces decision allowing unlicensed wireless devices into the television spectrum. While the White Spaces process still has not been finalized, that concern over the encroachment on the TV spectrum has taken a back seat to a far more fundamental issue of whether to repurpose large chunks of the television spectrum (if not the entire spectrum) for wireless users, while compressing television into an even smaller part of what’s left of the television band – if not migrating it altogether to multichannel providers like cable or satellite, with subscription fees for the poorest citizens being paid for from spectrum auction receipts. This proposal, while floated for years in academic circles, has in the last three months become one that is being legitimately debated in Washington, and one that television broadcasters have to take seriously, no matter how absurd it may seem at first glance. Who would have thought that just six month after the completion of the digital transition, when so much time and effort was expended to make sure that homes that receive free over-the-air television would not be adversely impacted by the digital transition, we could now be talking about abolishing free over-the-air television entirely? This cannot happen overnight, and it is a process sure to be resisted as broadcasters seek to protect their ability to roll out new digital multicast channels and their mobile platforms. But it is a real proposal which, if implemented, could fundamentally change the face of the television industry.  Watch for this debate to continue this year.


Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What Can Broadcasters Expect from Washington in 2010?

An article from TV NewsCheck last week reported on an approach by an FCC representative to television operators, floating an idea that the FCC would "buy" TV spectrum from existing television station operators, and repurpose that spectrum for wireless users – presumably some sort of wireless broadband.  The funds to buy the spectrum would come from the auction of the frequencies.  Over-the-air TV viewers would perhaps be left with a limited over-the-air service.  Today, another article cites a study filed at the Commission that suggests that the auction of TV spectrum could bring in more than three times the value of what that spectrum is for broadcasting.  Could these developments grow into a ground swell that could signal the end of over-the-air television?  Nicholas Negroponte made the much quoted observation almost 15 years ago, before the Internet was the multi-media service that it is today – that communications devices that were wired will become unwired, and those that were wireless would become wired – the "Negroponte Switch" or the process of "unwiring."  But is this switch inevitable for television, and is it in the industry’s best interest?

The theory of unwiring looked at the growing demands of wireless data networks for more and more bandwidth. While voice and data services were, at one time, wired services (the plain old telephone, the fax, even the telegraph), more and more of that information is now being digitally packaged and delivered wirelessly.  At the same time, video programming was delivered through wireless over-the-air television (though no one ever referred to it as "wireless"), but each year is more and more delivered by wired means (by cable companies and what used to be telephone companies).  At this point, estimates are that only a bit more than 10% of television households get their television programming exclusively from over-the-air reception.  Looking at this transition, some have theorized that the progression would continue, and the broadcast services would end up being delivered to fixed locations by wire, while the data services would be delivered wirelessly.


Continue Reading Could Calls on the FCC for More Spectrum Lead to the End of Over The Air TV?

At the FCC meeting held on Election Day, the Commission approved the operation of "white spaces" devices in the TV spectrum.  These would be mobile, unlicensed devices that would operate on TV channels that are not used in a particular location.  Many Internet users have hailed the expansion of wireless Internet opportunities that they believe that this decision will bring.  While the FCC promised that these devices would protect television operations and other current uses of the TV Band, many other groups have reacted to the decision far more skeptically.  All in all, we have probably not heard the end of this debate.

The full text of the FCC Order has not yet been released but, from the Public Notice summarizing the action (which came late in the day, after a several hour delay in the start of the FCC meeting), the FCC appears to have made some concessions to the broadcasters who were objecting that the tests of the white spaces devices were not able to adequately sense the presence of television signals in a way that would protect those stations.  So, to protect television signals, the FCC ordered that, in addition to sensing the existence of television signals, the white spaces devices would also have to have geo-location abilities, which would check the location of the device and compare it to a database of television stations and prevent the device from operating on channels that the database shows to be occupied.  Even with this capacity, organizations representing television stations do not believe that this compromise is sufficient to protect those stations.


Continue Reading FCC Approves White Spaces Devices in TV Band – While Some Hail a Boon to Wireless Internet, Others Say Not So Fast