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

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