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Broadcasters oppose Wi-Fi between TV signals

To give Wi-Fi a needed boost, the FCC has proposed to allow unlicensed Wi-Fi services to use unoccupied frequencies between channels two and 51 in each television market as long as those transmissions don’t disrupt existing broadcast stations.

But broadcasters, and even their cable competitors, are worried that the expansion of the Wi-Fi service will interfere with their TV signals. Their views were reflected in a host of recent FCC filings.

The Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) urged the FCC “to thoroughly test the compatibility of unlicensed devices with incumbent broadcast services and employ additional safeguards before permitting such devices to be operated using spectrum that is currently allocated for broadcast television.” Even then, the APTS urged, unlicensed devices should be allowed only after the transition to DTV has been completed in the relevant markets.

The NAB and Association For Maximum Service Television (MSTV) also oppose the FCC plan. The FCC proposal, the trade groups said, “would produce many detrimental and unintended consequences to America’s free, over-the-air television service and fails to present any meaningful method for resolving such problems.”

Wi-Fi devices could also impact cable service because many cable systems receive their broadcast programming via antennas and could be subject to interference, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said in a filing. The group said that there are many instances where broadcast signals are received at the cable headend at locations outside of the Grade B contour, many of which signals are deemed “must-carry.”

“Under the proposed rules, unlicensed devices will be able to transmit on channels used for receipt of distant broadcast television signals, therefore increasing the likelihood that there will be interference with a local broadcast signal received from outside the Grade B contour, particularly in rural markets,” the NCTA said.

On the other side of the issue, a coalition of 22 public interest groups, including the Media Access Project, Consumer Federation of America, Common Cause and Public Knowledge, argued to the FCC that such devices can operate in the broadcast bands without causing harmful interference.

The Wi-Fi industry views TV spectrum, which is in the lower-frequency bands that let signals travel farther and better penetrate buildings and foliage, as especially valuable because it allows more seamless service, lowers cost and requires fewer antennas.

Wi-Fi industry and FCC officials counter the broadcasters by saying that a new generation of wireless gear can avoid TV interference. Antennas can check a channel to see if a TV station is using it and even adjust its power based on the station's power. Also, TV stations’ strong signals are generally invulnerable to weaker wireless transmissions, said Wi-Fi proponents.

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