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FCC staff puts brakes on OFDM experimental license request

The head of a new advocacy group seeking to win the right for broadcasters to freely choose the digital modulation scheme of their liking has been put in a holding pattern on his request for an experimental license from the FCC to put an OFDM-based DTV transmission demonstration on-air in Portland, OR.

Greg Herman, president of the newly formed advocacy group and president of Portland-based LPTV broadcasting company WatchTV, is seeking the license to put on-air a five-cell, four-channel, OFDM-based DTV transmission system.

Herman, who demonstrated the system to FCC staff Nov. 17 at commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., expressed optimism before the meeting that he would win approval for the experimental license. However, days after the presentation, Herman learned from commission staff that approval of the license would not be forthcoming without approval from the FCC commissioners.

The FCC, represented at the Washington, D.C., demonstration by Rebecca Hanson, senior advisor/special counsel in the Media Bureau, Julius Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, and five OET staff members, learned that Converged Multimedia Mobile Broadcasting, which relies on OFDM-based modulation, is being deployed in hundreds of Chinese cities and that a robust ecosystem, including numerous consumer receivers, already exists.

For the demonstration, seven video content streams were transmitted using OFDM modulation to 12 different CMMB receivers, ranging from cellular telephones to dedicated handheld devices. ( has released a video of the FCC presentation.)

While FCC staff has put Herman in a holding pattern for the experimental license, the WatchTV president says he was encouraged by comments made by FCC commissioners prior to their vote Nov. 30 on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at laying the regulatory groundwork to clear TV spectrum to meet the goals of the National Broadband Plan.

In her comments before the vote, FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker specifically mentioned the need to discuss the use of new digital modulation schemes, such as OFDM, by broadcasters as part of meeting demand for future wireless broadband Internet service.

Referring to the delay in granting the experimental license, Herman said, “Why wait? … They need to put their money where their mouth is.” Herman wants a 15-minute meeting with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to explain how OFDM-based broadcasting could help the commission meet the goals of its wireless broadband plan. “We need to speak to the chairman, because we think we have a lot of synergy with what he is trying to accomplish,” he said.

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.