The Winds of Spectrum War
October 13, 2009
NEW YORK: The impetus of the digital TV
transition was to free up spectrum for wireless carriers, but what seemed
sufficient when the effort began is no longer the case. Air waves are at a
premium, and will only become more scarce as unlicensed devices are unleashed
and the federal government gets into the physical process of deploying
nationwide, wireless broadband.
“One of the best places to find inefficiently used spectrum is undoubtedly TV
stations,” writes Martin Peers, a veteran media reporter with The Wall Street
Journal. He goes on to make a pitch for further TV signal
consolidation, freeing up even more spectrum:
“Broadcasters are allocated channels of spectrum that ranges across roughly 300
megahertz of bandwidth. Each station needs only six MHz, and few markets have
more than 10 or 20 stations. Much of the spectrum is left unused, because
signals interfere if they are too close together.”
Certain cellular technology could overcome the interference issues, he says.
The government could underwrite another channel realignment, providing
much-needed funds to financially strapped broadcasters. Peers cites analyst who
said creditors holding broadcast debt would likely be open to the idea, and
Comcast “would see the logic in using NBC stations’ spectrum for wireless
Peers’ message is that Wall Street would take a kinder, gentler approach to
broadcasters willing to consider yet another realignment.
The responses to Peers illustrate the ongoing chasm between engineering and
policy-making. Reader Brett Allen suggests converting TV Chs. 5 and 6 to the FM
radio band, although the demand is for wireless communications. Before the
current DTV channel realignment even got underway, broadcast engineers
suggested setting aside some of the VHF channels for unlicensed devices, rather
than having the things programmed to constantly sniff out unused spectrum
between channels. Those engineers knew that low VHFs would not work well with
digital transmissions. The concept failed to gain FCC attention, though now,
several stations transmitting digitally in VHF are moving to UHF channels.
Tom Taggart takes issue with another realignment, noting that work remains to
be done on the one just completed June 12.
“The original assumption, prompted by visions of sugarplums and all that money
from the auctions, was that digital TV could be crammed into the remaining
channels because lower power would be needed to get the same coverage area as
with the analog signal and the digital signal would be less bothered by interference
and noise,” he wrote. “Neither assumption is proving true.”
Taggart mentions the VHF-to-UHF migration. That, combined with more translators
and low-power TV operations, will more than sufficiently crowd the TV
bandwidth, he said.
“Rather than a gold mine for over-the-air TV, it will probably mean the end of
Washington policy analyst James Snider countered that “broadcasters are far
closer to cashing in than is generally known. They have won a whole bunch of
spectrum rights--under the public radar--that... most laypeople don’t know
Snider, a former fellow at the New America Foundation, a Beltway think tank led
by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, doesn’t elaborate on these spectrum rights. He
has typically taken the position that broadcasters end up with “the entire
windfall of additional spectrum rights” through back-room political
Peers’ piece, “Television’s Spectral Gold Mine,” and the subsequent comments,
are available at WSJ.com.
(Cover image by Jerome Dahdah; story image
More on RF spectrum issues:
October 12, 2009: “FCC Grants Microsoft
White Space Licenses”
Microsoft now has an experimental license to use TV channels around
Redmond, Wash., for testing unlicensed devices.
September 28, 2009: “Broadband Spectrum
“We seek additional comment on the fundamental question of whether current
spectrum allocations, including but not limited to the prime bands below 3.7
GHz, are adequate to support near- and longer-term demands of wireless
Sept. 17, 2009: “Legislators Press for
It’s rare to get agreement across party lines on Capitol Hill, but that was the
case this morning when it came to radio frequency spectrum. Legislators and
regulators alike agreed that an inventory was in order.
July 13, 2009: “Boucher Proffers House
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives have rolled out a bill that would
initiate a radio spectrum inventory. The measure would direct the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communication
Commission to do a comprehensive survey of the spectrum.
April 10, 2009: “National Broadband Plan
Includes Wireless and TV White Spaces”
With regards to TV “white space”, the Notice of Inquiry asks, “Given the
importance to wireless broadband services of backhaul to the PSTN and the
Internet, how can this spectrum be maximized to provide point-to-point backhaul
in rural areas?
February 6, 2009: “Boeing Receives
Experimental License in TV Broadcast Spectrum”
The WE2XVQ experimental license issued to the Boeing Company allows
operation in.... broadcast TV VHF channels 11, 12 and 13 and all UHF TV
channels except 37.