The FCC approved the first database manager for TV white spaces devices – those wireless communications devices that will operate in the spectrum currently used by broadcast television, operating on channels not in use in a given area and supposedly avoiding interference to the reception of over-the-air television stations.  Spectrum Bridge is the first company to be approved to act as a database manager, though there are several other companies who have applied and whose systems are in various stages of development and testing.  The database manager is to keep a list of all of the services that a white spaces device needs to protect from interference, and be able to transmit that information to devices to tell them what channels they can use in a given geographical area.  Protection must be accorded not only to TV stations and TV translators and LPTV stations, but also to the receive sites of Multichannel Video Programing Distributors (cable and satellite TV), certain broadcast auxiliary operations, off-shore telephone services and radio astronomy users, some land mobile operators, and certain wireless microphone users.  Today’s Public Notice specifically addresses how wireless microphone users need to register with the FCC to be protected from interference.

The Spectrum Bridge database was tested a few months ago, and the FCC’s letter outlines a number of concerns expressed about its operations.  These include several problems encountered by the NAB in registering sites that were supposed to be protected by white spaces devices.  While licensed facilities of TV stations and land mobile users are available from the FCC’s own database, receive sites for MVPDs and translators need to be registered, as do the location of certain mobile broadcast auxiliary stations.  The FCC ordered Spectrum Bridge to re-open its database for the registration of additional sites to be protected, and said that this would provide registrants the ability to test the modifications to the system in the coming weeks before the system becomes operational. 


Continue Reading FCC Approves First TV White Spaces Database Manager – Wireless Devices in TV Band to Start Operations in January

The FCC today announced the public testing of a new TV White Spaces database system.  Starting on September 19, 2011, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology will open a 45-day window to allow the public to try out the TV Band Database developed by one of the potential TV White Spaces database managers.  If approved, the Database will be used by white space

Broadcast engineers are often tasked with much of a station’s regulatory compliance, as well as its planning for the future.  At last week’s Michigan Association of Broadcasters Great Lakes Broadcasting Conference, I did a presentation to the a session of broadcast engineers and others, sponsored by the local chapter of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. We covered the industry’s macro issues of spectrum reallocation for television, and HD Radio for radio, and the possible use of TV Channels 5 and 6 for radio.  We also talked about restrictions on the movement of AM and FM stations based on the FCC’s rural radio proceeding, and the issues between translators and LPFM stations.  Then we talked about many of the day to day issues that can get a station in trouble – particularly with license renewals coming up.  A copy of the slides that I used in the presentation is available here.  Additional information on many of the topics that I discussed last week are also available on our blog, as listed below.

Some of the articles that we have written that would be important to members of the engineering community include the following:

  • The latest on White Spaces, and the development of the database that will be used to protect TV stations, translators, cable headends and other current users of the TV spectrum, an issue that I neglected to address at the conference 
  • A summary of the FCC’s proceeding to determine how incentive auctions would work to clear space in the TV spectrum for wireless broadband, and on making VHF channels more useful for digital television
  • The latest on video description of TV programming can be found here.
  • Information about closed captioning requirements and the new complaint process for issues about such captioning can be found here
  • Our checklist for the commercial broadcaster’s public file can be found here
  • Information on the FCC’s rural radio proceeding can be found here

There are plenty of other articles on the Blog about FCC Fines, LPFM/FM translator issues, Tower issuesEAS and other matters that are important to engineers – and to the stations they work for.


Continue Reading FCC Legal Issues for Broadcast Engineers – A Presentation to the Michigan Broadcasters

Every year, about this time, I dust off the crystal ball to offer a look at the year ahead to see what Washington has in store for broadcasters.  This year, like many in the recent past, Washington will consider issues that could fundamentally affect the broadcast industry – for both radio and TV, and affecting the growing on-line presence of broadcasters.  The FCC, Congress, and other government agencies are never afraid to provide their views on what the industry should be doing but, unlike other members of the audience, they can force broadcasters to pay attention to their views by way of new laws and regulations. And there is never a shortage of ideas from Washington as to how broadcasters should act.  Some of the issues discussed below are perennials, coming back over and over again on my yearly list (often without resolution), while others are unique to this coming year.  Issues unique to radio and TV, and those that could affect the broadcast industry generally, are addressed below.

Television Issues

Spectrum issues have been the dominant TV concerns in past years, first with the digital transition, and more recently with the "white spaces" rulemaking and the proposals advanced as part of the FCC’s Broadband Plan to reclaim part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband uses.  These issues remain on the FCC’s agenda, as do new issues dealing with the carriage of television stations by cable and satellite television providers.  Specific issues for TV include:

Spectrum reclamation:  The initial proposals for the reclamation of part of the TV spectrum for wireless broadband were laid by the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in November, looking at how the TV spectrum could be used more efficiently, and how incentive auctions encouraging some TV stations to vacate their channels could be conducted.  Congress still has to pass legislation to allow such auctions, and it will probably also mandate a spectrum inventory to determine if the reclamation of the TV spectrum is really necessary to provide for wireless broadband needs.  At the same time, some TV operators have begun to talk about television stations themselves providing broadband service with their excess spectrum.  While Congress will probably act on the auction bills this year, and there will be much debate about the details of the reallocation issue, so don’t expect final resolution of this matter in 2011.

White Spaces:  The FCC has authorized the operation of wireless devices in the television spectrum, resolving many of the concerns about interference to television operators by requiring all wireless users to protect operating TV channels in specific areas based on databases of existing users, not on spectrum sensing techniques.  But implementation issues still need to be worked out – including finding parties to compile and administer the databases to make sure that all existing spectrum users who are to be protected are registered.  Expect action on these matters this year, but no actual white spaces use until after these implementation efforts are completed.

LPTV Digital Transition:  While many members of the general public may consider the digital television transition to be complete, many Low Power TV stations and TV translators are still operating in analog.  The FCC has commenced a proceeding to require the transition of these stations to digital, suggesting that the transition be complete as early as the end of 2012.  Expect controversy on this issue.  Many LPTV stations feel that being forced incur the costs to covert to digital is premature and could imperil broadcast service, especially to rural areas and minority populations who rely on translators and LPTV stations, if spectrum repacking caused by any future repurposing of TV spectrum for broadband forces further technical changes.  These issues will be considered by the Commission this year.

Retransmission Consent Reform:  At the end of 2010, there was much controversy over retransmission consent issues, as there were instances where broadcasters and cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors had difficult negotiations over the carriage fees to be paid to the TV stations.  FCC sources stated at the end of the year that a proceeding will be initiated to determine if the rules governing the negotiation process should be changed.  The multichannel video programming distributors and some public interest groups argue that the FCC should protect viewers who may have their TV service disappear if a TV station does not reach a deal with a MVPD, while the broadcasters argue that the ability to remove the station is the heart of the negotiation, and removing the risk of the MVPD losing the right to carry the station would negate the negotiation.  Look for this proceeding to commence early in the year but, as it will no doubt be very controversial, it may take some time to resolve.

DMA Boundary Issues:  The FCC has also begun a proceeding to look at DMA boundaries that cross state lines to see if every television viewer should be guaranteed to receive service from cable or satellite providers of a station in his or her state.  Television stations fear that this guarantee could upset traditional television markets, and could have an impact on retransmission consent negotiations in border counties.  Comments in this proceeding are due on January 24th, 2011.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – What Washington Has In Store For Broadcasters in 2011

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

The FCC today released its National Broadband Plan to Congress, and in it spelled out its suggestions for the future of television. Facilitating the deployment of ubiquitous, dependable wireless broadband service is identified as a fundamental goal of the Commission’s proposals. The authors of the Commission’s report have viewed the problems experienced by some wireless broadband providers in major markets as indicative of a coming shortage in wireless capacity. Specifically, the Commission is concerned that as more and more applications for wireless broadband are deployed, the capacity of existing wireless spectrum will be exhausted, foreclosing opportunities presented by wireless broadband. And, as detailed below, the Commission sees the television spectrum as providing a significant part of the answer to that perceived spectrum shortfall.

The opportunities for broadband are many, in the view of the authors of the study. The Commission sees growing demand and future applications for wireless broadband not just in the areas of entertainment and commercial applications, but also in education, health, energy conservation, civic involvement, and public safety, among others. However, the Commission fears that sufficient spectrum will not be available to meet all of these needs.


Continue Reading FCC National Broadband Plan – What It Suggests for TV Broadcasters Spectrum

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?

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

For the first time since the term of FCC Commissioner Tate expired and Chairman Martin resigned, the FCC will be back to full strength with the Senate’s approval of new FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Attwell Baker.  What issues of importance to broadcasters will the Commission, now headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski, take up in coming months?   The new Chairman, who gave a number of interviews last week with the trade and popular press, emphasized the importance of the broadband rollout.  Beyond that, his priorities for the broadcast media were not detailed.  He did, however, emphasize, that any broadcast regulation (specifically referencing the mandatory review of the broadcast ownership rules that must begin next year), would have to take into account the realities of the marketplace – including the current economic conditions.

Beyond that, there were few clues as to the new FCC’s priorities in the broadcast world.  But, even though there are no indications of the FCC’s priorities, there are many open broadcast issues that the Commission will, sooner or later, need to resolve.  Some involve fundamental questions of priorities – trying to decide which user of the spectrum should be preferred over others.  Other issues deal with questions of what kind of public service obligations broadcasters will face.  And yet another set of issues deal with just the nitty gritty technical issues with which the FCC is often faced.  Let’s look at some of these open issues that may affect the broadcast industry. 


Continue Reading A Full Five Person FCC – What’s Next For Broadcasters?