wireless devices in the television spectrum

Congress finally has given to the FCC authority to conduct spectrum auctions to reclaim parts of the TV spectrum for wireless users, and most DC-based industry associations, including the NAB, have reacted favorably. For a process that was so controversial, this seems like a very favorable result. Television stations, in particular, will have much relief from concerns about the forced-reallocation of their operations to less favorable spectrum. While most trade press reports have reported on these statements and the very general outlines of the legislation, few have looked closely at the provisions that apply to the broadcaster auctions. Just what do they provide?

The auction provisions were adopted as part of the legislation that just extended the Social Security payroll tax deduction rollbacks, extended unemployment benefits, and fixed certain limitations that had arisen on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. All these benefits needed offsetting revenues to avoid unduly increasing the Federal deficit, and the one seemingly easy place to “find” money, was through spectrum auctions. So Congress ordered the President to identify certain Federal spectrum that could be made available for wireless users, and also authorized the FCC to conduct auctions of broadcast spectrum, but under the very specific guidelines set out below.


Continue Reading Congress Authorizes FCC Incentive Auctions to Clear Part of Broadcast TV Spectrum for Wireless Broadband Users – The Details of the Legislation

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 recently revised its TV “white spaces” rules to facilitate the use of unlicensed communications devices on spectrum originally allocated exclusively for broadcast television.  Although there is still a long way to go before new unlicensed devices are deployed in this spectrum, the recent revision of the rules has triggered an important deadline.  As

The Commission today released an Order conditionally designating 9 companies to be database administrators for white spaces devices.  As we wrote in our article describing the FCC’s recent decision on reconsideration of its White Spaces order, these administrators will be responsible for maintaining a database of all users of the TV spectrum who must be protected from interference from white spaces devices.  Protected entities include TV stations, LPTV stations and TV translators, cable and satellite receive locations, certain wireless microphone users, and the paths between TV stations and translators.  Each database must maintain all of this information, so that white spaces devices can determine what channels must be protected in areas in which they are operating. 

The conditional nature of the designation reflects the fact that these administrators had requested designation in late 2009, before the recent Order on Reconsideration which adopted the new requirements that all white spaces devices must communicate with these administrators instead of relying on any sort of spectrum sensing.  Thus, the FCC is requiring the proposed administrators to update their filings to reflect that they can meet the new requirements for the maintaining the database.  One of these new requirements is one of security – so that it can be ensured that the users will have an accurate data base from which to operate, without fear of tampering or other abuses.  The FCC will also require that each administrator attend an education session conducted by the FCC, and to go through a rigorous testing period – with tests conducted by the FCC to make sure that the administrator’s service will actually provide the necessary information to protect incumbent TV spectrum users from interference from white spaces devices.


Continue Reading FCC Designates Database Adminstrators for TV White Spaces Devices

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

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