While many broadcasters have been watching Capitol Hill as Congress debates the issues surrounding the extension of satellite TV’s copyright permission to retransmit over-the-air television signals, and the attempts to add other provisions to the bill that could affect television stations, there are a number of issues teed up at the FCC that could also affect the industry.  In the tentative agenda for the September 30 FCC open meeting, there are two issues being considered that have impact on TV.  One has received much press coverage is the repeal of the sports blackout rule that leads to the blackout of local coverage of NFL games when the game is not sold out.  From a blog post by the Chairman (available here), and statements of other commissioners, it appears that this rule is headed for repeal – though the actual blackouts may continue by contract rather than FCC mandate. 

The other issue on the agenda that has received less press, and about which less is known, is changes to the rules on white-spaces devices, those wireless devices that have been authorized to operate on a non-interference basis in the portions of the TV band that are not being used in particular markets.  We wrote about the adoption of the current rules, here, and we will be watching to see what changes to these rules are adopted later this month.  Also on the agenda, with possible relevance to television and other media companies, is an item to further consider how to regulate the use of wireless microphones.
Continue Reading FCC Action on TV Issues Coming Soon – Sports Blackout Rule, White Spaces, Post-Auction Treatment of LPTV and TV Translators, and OET-69 Revisions

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’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

The FCC this week released the details of its "White Spaces" decision, authorizing the use of both fixed and mobile unlicensed devices within the television spectrum.  In theory, these devices are supposed to be able to sense the existence of television signals so that they can operate on other frequencies and avoid creating interference.  However, as an extra safety measure, the FCC has also required that these devices connect at least once a day with a database of all other protected users of the television spectrum and, by used of geo-location technology, determine what other users are in the area where the "TVBD" (television band device) is being used and operate on frequencies which protect those other users.  Our firm has prepared a memo outlining the full decision.  The Davis Wright Tremaine memo can be found here.  When one reviews the full text of the FCC decision, it becomes pretty clear that we should not look for such devices anytime soon.

While the Commission’s order actually discussed in some detail the question of whether these devices should be permitted to operate before the end of the digital television conversion in February 2009, given the issues that still need to be resolved, this discussion really appears to be an academic one.  First, devices that meet all of the FCC requirements have to be designed and built, and type-accepted by the FCC labs.  In a recent article by Shelly Palmer in his well regarded blog on television issues, he suggests that many engineers are convinced that these devices simply will not work.  When one reviews the FCC requirements, one can see why that might be the case.


Continue Reading Details of White Spaces Decision Released – Don’t Look for Them Soon as There is Lots to Do Before Any Devices Will Be Introduced

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