White-space proposal has new life

The U.S. Senate introduced two bills that would require the commission to adopt rules to authorize the unlicensed use of television spectrum for wireless broadband services.

Terms of the proposals

Both proposals require the commission to complete the long-pending television white-space proceeding within 180 days. This proceeding sought comments on a proposal to permit fixed and mobile uses of the TV band for wireless services. In discrete geographic areas, many channels in the TV band are not being used. The commission asked whether it should allow unlicensed devices to operate in these white spaces. That would make efficient use of the spectrum and promote broadband deployment, without interference.

The Senate bills would require the completion of this rulemaking and adoption of technical rules and certification processes for unlicensed devices to “facilitate the robust and efficient use” of the TV band. One bill would require television broadcasters to provide field measurements in order to file a complaint alleging interference.

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the bills on March 14. Many of the senators warned broadcasters against raising false claims of interference in an attempt to derail the legislation.

The Senate hearing was merely a formality, and the two bills will most likely be reconciled and attached to a larger bill in late April. While there is not yet a companion bill in the House of Representatives, a bill might be introduced if the Senate bills emerge.

Opposition to legislation

Several groups have already begun attacking the legislation, including the wireless microphone users who also use the TV band, the consumer electronic companies who fear the unlicensed devices will interfere with the digital set-top boxes and the Association of Maximum Service Television. These parties have many concerns about the proposal.

First, proponents of white-space use have not developed devices that can sense whether a television station is using a particular spectrum. The proposal depends on the presumed availability of such devices, so the fact that none exist raises valid questions as to whether it makes sense to adopt rules based on non-existent technology.

Also, no one has a solution for the problem of the unidentified receiver. Even if there existed a device that could sense whether a TV channel is available and then could react accordingly, such a device would not be able to determine the proximity of the unlicensed device to a television receiver or other device already operating in the TV band. Without knowing its proximity to the receiver, the unlicensed device could not determine whether it would cause interference to the reception on a particular TV channel.

Because the device will not have the same reception capabilities as a television receiver, many people are concerned that the unlicensed device will transmit on a channel it has incorrectly determined to not be in use. As of this date, there are no acceptable devices to operate in other bands.

And because the devices would be unlicensed, it would be impossible to track down and order the users to cease using the devices if they interfere with licensed operations.

Finally, many broadcasters are concerned about the impact of the unlicensed devices on the DTV transition. Because the unlicensed devices would be digital and the final broadcast transition to DTV is still three years away, the unlicensed use of the spectrum could adversely affect the digital operations of television stations as they commence full-power service on their channels.

Harry C. Martin is the immediate-past president of the Federal Communications Bar Association and a member of Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth PLC.


June 1 is the deadline for television, Class A, LPTV and TV translator stations in the following states to file their 2006 renewal applications: Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Television, Class A and LPTV stations that originate programs in those states also must file EEO Program Reports (Form 396) along with their renewal applications.

June 1 also is the deadline for biennial ownership reports (Forms 323 and 323-E) for television broadcast stations in Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

July 1 is the deadline by which all television stations must complete construction and begin operations with their full replication or maximization DTV facilities or face loss of interference protection beyond the signal contour in operation as of that date.

Send questions and comments to: