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Google Beats Down Newsgathering

WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to bump licensed TV operations to make way for white-space devices and wireless mics after the TV spectrum incentive auction. The commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Tuesday seeking feedback on rules that would prevent a broadcaster from taking the last available UHF channel in a given area so it could be left open for white-space devices and wireless mics.

“Given the importance of white-space devices and wireless microphones to businesses and consumers, [the commission] stated its intent, after additional notice and an opportunity to comment, to preserve one television channel in each area of the United States for shared use by these devices,” the NPRM states.

The broadcast lobby jumped on the assertion that white-space devices are “important to consumers,” given there are no consumer white-space devices. According to the National Association of Broadcasters, there are fewer than 600 fixed white-space devices deployed across the United States more than five years after the devices received FCC approval. (TV Technology has a query into the FCC regarding the number of white-space devices deployed, and when consumer availability might be expected.)

“NAB is reviewing this proposal and will participate actively on this issue,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “For those concerned with localism and diversity of public airwaves, the prospect of elevating unlicensed users of spectrum over licensed broadcasters in the television broadcast band should cause grave concern. This appears to be contrary to the Spectrum Act, the FCC’s own rules, and sound public policy.”

The NAB previously criticized the FCC for favoring white-space devices, which are not yet deployed commercially, over established broadcast operations.

The NPRM specifically targets low-power TV, translator, and broadcast auxiliary service facilities, which are used for studio-transmitter links, remote pick-ups and electronic newsgathering. The proposal also asks if full-power broadcasters should defer to white-space devices when it comes to the last available UHF channel.

FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly objected to asking full-power broadcasters to step aside.

“I strongly oppose… asking questions in this NPRM that, if pursued, would absurdly restrict the future rights of full-power television stations—the primary users in the TV band—in order to ensure that secondary, unlicensed users have priority access to 6 MHz of spectrum. Doing so could put at risk all of the benefits that our nation’s broadcast stations bring to the American people,” said O’Rielly, who dissented in part.

Pai, a defender of LPTV who grew up in Kansas, dissented in full.

“The commission, on a partisan basis, is using the incentive auction proceeding to dole out regulatory presents to favored companies and industries while leaving others worse off,” he said. “I cannot support the commission’s proposal to prioritize the spectrum needs of unlicensed white space devices over those of translators and LPTV stations.”

Google, the main proponent of white-space devices, is one of the companies that would benefit from the proposal.

The white-space/wireless mic set-aside would be at Channel 21 or above and possibly vary, even within a designated market area. The same database system now in development for white-space devices would be used to determine availability—a system the NAB has referred to as “fatally flawed.”

Current rules allow white-space devices to use unoccupied channels across the TV band. Unlicensed white-space devices are supposed to ping one of several FCC-sanctioned databases to find an open channel to avoid interfering with TV station signals. The NAB noted that, “At various points, more than one-third of fixed TV band devices in the database contained patently inaccurate location information, including multiple devices registered in the middle of empty fields, or to a single family home, and some even registered in foreign countries.”

The same rules allowing white-space devices into the TV band also set aside two channels for wireless microphones. Microphone makers have lobbied hard to preserve that real estate exclusively for wireless mics.

“Two [6 MHz] channels sans white-space devices is a need, not a want,” Sennheiser Director of Spectrum Affairs Joe Ciaudelli said in a filing with the commission.

The commission’s NPRM paints that a non-starter:

“In anticipation of the repurposing of some TV band spectrum for wireless services and the decreased amount of TV band spectrum that would remain after repacking, the commission concluded that following the incentive auction it should no longer continue to designate any unused television channel solely for use by wireless microphones, determining instead that any such channels should be made potentially available for white-space device use as well.”

Mic makers want a fence between themselves and white-space devices because they are unconvinced the database system will prevent interference. Hospitals, which use low-power monitors on the same frequencies, also are skeptical.

Google has argued that its own tests show that white-space devices will not cause interference. Google has filed 39 comments and notices on the incentive auction docket, No. 12-268. Google’s lobbyist Paul Margie most recently met with FCC staffers last Thursday to dispute claims by wireless carriers that white-space devices would cause interference if allowed in the buffer spectrum between up- and downlink LTE operations.

Comments will be due on the NPRM 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. Replies will be due 60 days from publication.