FCC nixes request to experiment with OFDM-, OFDMA-based TV transmission

The owner of WatchTV, a Portland, OR, based low-power television operator, received word last week that the Federal Communications Commission would not approve its request for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to test over-the-air transmission of OFDM and OFDMA modulated television signals.

The decision came as a blow to Greg Herman, president of WatchTV, who had received indications from the agency’s Media Bureau as early as mid-July that the application would be approved.

“I am quite disappointed by the decision,” Herman said. “We believe broadcasters can play an important role in achieving (FCC) Chairman (Julius) Genachowski’s goals for wireless Internet broadband service. Denying our application means policymakers will be denied valuable data about alternate means of wireless Internet delivery.”

Herman, who also heads the SpectrumEvolution.org advocacy group, has told policy- and lawmakers repeatedly that new digital television transmission systems offer a way to achieve the commission’s goals for wireless Internet broadband availability much sooner than could be achieved as laid out in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

Since fall 2010, he has been pushing the FCC to give U.S. television broadcasters the freedom to choose how they modulate their DTV signals — a critical step in making wireless Internet broadband service delivered via existing TV spectrum possible. Broadcasters should be granted Universal Flex Use (UFU) of their spectrum on a non-interfering basis, he said.

In November 2010, Herman demonstrated to FCC staff at commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., a working CMMB (Converged Mobile Multimedia Broadcasting) OFDM-based transmitter transmitting OFDM-modulated television signals to some 20 CMMB receivers that are in use outside the United States. CMMB-based mobile TV is in use in 350 cities in China.

Amy Brown, executive director of SpectrumEvolution.org, and Herman wrote in an e-mail to the press Sept. 15 that the FCC Media Bureau “made a very valiant effort” to win agency approval for the experiment but were “put in a very awkward position and were shut down from above.” The statement alludes to the decision to nix the experiment coming from the highest levels at the agency.

Although it appears Herman has reached a dead-end at the commission with his request for permission to transmit OFDM and OFDMA signals on an experimental basis, the head of WatchTV said he will continue to work to advance his goals. While he acknowledged the FCC decision is a major setback, Herman said he is not ready to throw in the towel.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.