using television spectrum for wireless broadband

In another example of how seriously the FCC is considering the reallocation of portions of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband use, the Commission today issued a Public Notice freezing any new petitions for changes in the channels of television stations.  Since the DTV transition, almost 100 stations have changed channels – mostly moving from VHF to UHF channels, as television operators have in determined that VHF channels are subject to more interference and viewer complaints about over-the-air reception.  Many predict that these problems with the remaining VHF stations will be worse when the new mobile DTV devices roll out later this year.  Yet, as the FCC is looking at implementing its plan to recapture portions of the television spectrum for use by wireless broadband, this freeze has now been adopted.  No new Petitions for channel changes will be accepted, though requests already on file will be processed.

The FCC itself has acknowledged the difficulties with the reception of digital DTV signals broadcast on VHF channels, and has asked for public comment on how these difficulties can be overcome, though many engineers seem to feel that, short of repealing the laws of physics, the quest may be an impossible one.  In that same proceeding, the FCC has asked about how it should repack the television spectrum, so that the Commission could provide a contiguous swath of spectrum for broadband users.  These actions are being taken by the FCC even though, so far, there is no legislation authorizing the incentive auctions that would be used to pay some broadcasters to abandon their spectrum.  Without such legislation, the FCC cannot move forward with its plans – thus this freeze may be in place for some time.


Continue Reading FCC Freezes Channel Changes By Digital TV Stations While Evaluating Reallocation of Television Spectrum for Broadband Use

Last week, we wrote that the FCC is going ahead with a rulemaking looking at how broadband needs may require some reallocation of the TV spectrum to wireless uses.  The initiation of a rulemaking on that issue is planned for the next FCC meeting in late November.  With that proceeding about to begin, the FCC today froze all applications for new Low Power Television (LPTV) stations and for TV Translators, and for major changes in existing LPTV and TV translator stations.  Over a year ago, after not having accepted applications for a decade during the DTV transition, the FCC allowed the filing of applications for new LPTV stations and TV translators in rural areas.  Finding that much of the demand for new translators has been met in these rural areas in the intervening period, the FCC has now determined that, until the spectrum needs for television and broadband are more certain, it would not accept any more applications for these stations. It appears that the long-planned window for LPTV stations in major markets will not happen in the foreseeable future.

The freeze does allow for the filing of minor changes to LPTV and TV translator stations, for applications to flash cut to digital, and for displacement applications if a full-power station precludes the continued operation of such a station on its current channel.  LPTV and translator stations still operating on channels 52 through 69, which have already been reallotted for wireless uses, can also file displacement applications during the freeze.


Continue Reading FCC Freezes Applications for New LPTV and TV Translator Stations While Contemplating How the Broadband Plan Will Affect the TV Spectrum

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

As the media has reported extensively this week (for example here and here) the FCC is poised to tap into the television spectrum to allow the use of that spectrum on an unlicensed basis, potentially leading to a wave of innovative unlicensed devices, including potentially turbo-charged Wi-Fi.  On the tentative agenda released recently for the next open Commission meeting, to be held next Thursday, September 23rd, the Commission has included an item entitled:  "TV White Spaces Second MO&O:  A Second Memorandum Opinion and Order that will create opportunities for investment and innovation in advanced Wi-Fi technologies and a variety of broadband services by finalizing provisions for unlicensed wireless devices to operate in unused parts of TV spectrum." 

As watchers of the TV white spaces issue will recall, the Commission adopted an Order in late 2008 to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the so-called "TV white spaces", which is the spectrum in the TV band that is not actively occupied by a television station in a particular geographic area.  (An earlier advisory by Davis Wright Tremaine summarizing the Commission’s 2008 Order can be found here.)  Following the adoption of that Order, over a dozen parties sought reconsideration of the Commission’s decision; those petitions remain pending.  It is not clear whether the proposed Order would be an Order on Reconsideration, but presumably it will address the issues raised by these petitioners.  In addition, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and others filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit seeking to challenge the FCC’s white spaces Order.  That appeal is on hold pending the Commission’s resolution of the Petitions for Reconsideration.  Despite the unresolved objections, in late 2009, the FCC moved forward with putting a spectrum management structure in place that would establish a privately maintained database that would permit coordination in order to locate unused spectrum in the TV band in a particular area.  We summarized this step in an earlier blog entry here.  In early 2010, nine parties submitted proposals to be designated TV Band Device Database Managers, but to date the matter remains pending. 


Continue Reading FCC Ready to Tap Returned TV Spectrum with New White Spaces Order

Last week, the FCC’s Media Bureau granted waivers of the requirement that television tuners be capable of receiving both analog and digital television transmissions, but only with respect to tuners meant for mobile use.  The FCC justified the waivers of the All Channel Receiver Act given the technological constraints that an analog reception chip would put on mobile receivers meant for the reception of the Mobile/Handheld Digital Television Standard (A/153) signals.  This signal is being tested now to allow television broadcasters to provide mobile programming in addition to their current over-the-air broadcast signals – a service planned for commercial roll out at the end of the year.  These waivers, granted in response to requests by Dell and LG Electronics, not only signal the seriousness with which this new service is being regarded, but also provide evidence of the coming end of analog television, now used solely by LPTV stations.   

In considering the waiver, the Commission recognized that the only television stations that would be affected by the lack of an analog tuner were LPTV stations, and no such stations opposed the waiver request.  As one of the waiver proponents noted, analog television signals were not meant for mobile reception, and thus the lack of such a receiver in a mobile device was no big loss.  Moreover, the FCC noted that the digital conversion of LPTV stations has already begun, in that it no longer accepts applications for new analog LPTV stations.  The Commission reiterated that it will soon set a date for the final conversion of the last analog LPTV stations to digital.  Thus, the failure to receive analog would be, at most, a temporary issue.


Continue Reading FCC Authorizes Mobile DTV Receivers Without Analog Tuners – Further Signals of the End of Analog LPTV, and Raises Questions of Recapture of TV Spectrum for Broadband

In a recent speech before the Community Radio Conference, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn suggested that the proposal to reallocate Channels 5 and 6 for FM radio use had merit and should be considered further.  That proposal is already before the FCC, and ripe for decision – so it could theoretically be adopted tomorrow.  However, the proposal is not backed by all.  While Commissioner Clyburn may think that the idea bears more exploration, there seems to be significantly more consideration that is necessary before a decision on the pending proposals can be made.  What are these proposals, and what is standing in the way of a reallocation? 

As we have written before, the proposals have been made to take TV Channels 5 and 6, which are immediately adjacent to the FM band, and reallocate them to radio broadcasting.  The pending proposals include suggestions that LPFM stations could be located on the new FM channels that could be created, that new space for noncommercial radio operations could be created and, if they operated digitally, there would even be room to move the entire AM band to Channel 5.  While some have suggested that any relief from such a transition would be long in coming, as radios would need to be manufactured, in fact that process might not be as prolonged as suggested, as the frequencies used by these television channels are already used for FM radio in Asia.  Radios already exist that could pick up these channels (at least for analog reception).  However, television interests have opposed this reallotment, but it may well be the broadband plan which could have the greatest impact on the consideration of this issue. 


Continue Reading Commissioner Clyburn Suggests TV Channels 5 and 6 Could Be Used For Radio – Will It Happen?

Only a day after asking over-the-air television broadcasters to justify their existence and why some or all of their spectrum should not be reclaimed by the FCC to be used for wireless broadband (and giving interested parties only until December 21 to not only justify their existence, but also to come up with technical means by which the spectrum could be more efficiently used, business plans for their future use of the spectrum, and a survey of the competing needs for that spectrum – see more detail below), the FCC issued another request for comments, asking how current video devices could be made more accommodating to Internet video.  These comments, also due on December 21, seemingly bring consumer electronics manufacturers and multi-channel video providers into the FCC’s rapidly-expanding evaluation of the video industry and its future.  As the comments filed in connection with these two requests will no doubt lead to proposals to be included in the FCC’s February report to Congress on strategies for broadband deployment, these quickly prepared filings could help determine the future of the video industry for the foreseeable future.

The new proceeding, looking for a "plug and play" model of consumer video devices that can access conventional television delivery systems and the Internet, starts with the statement that Internet video is "tremendously popular" and a prediction that, as it expands, new applications for such video will be found.  The Commission says that it sees Internet video as one way of spurring broadband adoption.  How to best promote the plug and play model for consumer video devices that can access the Internet is the crux of the comments that the FCC seeks.  The Commission first asks whether there are currently video devices that allow televisions to view not only the programming provided by multichannel video providers (e.g. cable and satellite), but also Internet video that may be available through an Internet service provided by that same MVPD, stating that it was not aware of such devices.  Next, the Commission asks what would be necessary to develop such devices, and what rules the Commission could adopt to possibly require capabilities in set top boxes and other devices to provide this universal access to video programming of all sorts.  The third area of inquiry from the Commission asks about standards that could be adopted to make Internet video and video from other sources interact with all other home audio and video equipment, including DVRs, to bring about the "digital living room."  And finally the Commission asks what stands in the way of plug and play devices that will work with all networks by which video is delivered.


Continue Reading In Less Than 3 Weeks, Let’s Provide Detailed Analysis on Fundamentally Changing the Television Industry – Comments Sought on Encouraging Internet Video in Addition to Repurposing TV Spectrum