FCC's Broadband Plan NOI Discusses White Spaces

Last week the FCC extended the comment and reply comment deadlines and revised ex-parte procedures [PDF] in the Notice of Inquiry (FCC 09-66) [PDF] on fostering innovation and investment in the wireless communications market and developing a national broadband plan.

Originally the proceeding was considered to be "exempt" in that ex-parte presentations do not need to be disclosed. Last week's action changed it to a "permit but disclose" proceeding. The comment deadline was extended by two days, to Sept. 30, 2009 and the reply comment deadline extended by three days, to Oct. 15, 2009.

TV band devices (a.k.a. "white space devices") are discussed in this NOI. The FCC uses white space devices as an example of how sharing can open up new spectrum for wireless broadband, but recognizes that disputes about potential or actual interference can pose "a major impediment to the introduction of new services, devices and technologies."

The NOI seeks information on the "best ways to balance the interference protection rights of incumbents against the opportunities for access to spectrum" and also on the effect on innovation by interference protection considerations. It observed that:

"Radio services are generally afforded protection from 'harmful interference' on either a primary or secondary basis depending upon their status in the Table of Frequency Allocations. Under the present rules, 'harmful interference' is defined as interference 'which endangers the functioning of a radionavigation service or of other safety services or seriously degrades, obstructs, or repeatedly interrupts a radiocommunication service.' The trend of more radio services and devices seeking to use extremely weak signals and mobility bringing products in closer proximity to each other is making the risk of interference a more acute problem."

The NOI observed that "application of these criteria often devolves to a case-by-case interpretation of conflicting data" and presented special challenges to the Commission."

The NOI opens the possibility of trading spectrum or interference rights in a secondary market. In an extreme case, a TV broadcaster might be allowed sell its TV spectrum to another service (not broadcasting) for a price. The NOI discusses the possible use of fees to encourage the most efficient use of spectrum.

If the value of UHF TV band spectrum to other services is high enough, could this lead to a forced "repacking" of UHF TV spectrum to clear more spectrum in some markets?

Some of the suggestions, such as setting interference rejection standards for receivers, could benefit broadcasters. The FCC recognized that communications towers are the "backbone of our wireless infrastructure" and asked for suggestions on "additional measures that the Commission may implement to increase the speed and efficiency of processing tower-related matters."

The NOI requested comments about what could be done to innovate tower siting and collocation among service providers, asking "Where are the best collocation opportunities for providing new or expanded wireless services? Are there potential tradeoffs in encouraging such efforts?"

Broadcasters can use the NOI to show how they are contributing to wireless innovation. The introduction of mobile DTV services is an excellent example of this, as it not only provides a new service to consumers, but frees up bandwidth on wireless Internet systems that otherwise would be needed to send individual program streams to portable devices.

I'll have more on this after the comment period ends later this month.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.