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Groups Organize Opposition to Unlicensed Devices in TV White Space

Monday the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) said broadcasters, sports leagues and TV set manufacturers have united in opposition to proposals to allow unlicensed portable devices to operate in “white space” (unoccupied TV channels). During Monday’s news conference, NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV) showed a television advertisement that began airing this week on local TV stations in the Washington, D.C. area urging viewers to “tell Congress not to allow unlicensed devices on digital TV channels.”

NAB TV Broad Chairman Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations, said, “Interference is not acceptable to our viewers. While our friends at Intel, Google and Microsoft may find system errors, computer glitches and dropped calls tolerable, broadcasters do not. Consumers know that computers unexpectedly shut down. TVs don’t. TVs work and people expect them to work.”

Morgan Murphy Media president Elizabeth Murphy Burns, who is also chair of the MSTV and a member of the NAB TV board, commented that the average American household watches over eight hours of TV a day. She said, “This is about consumers. Over the next few years, consumers will spend billions on digital television sets and government subsidized digital-to-analog converter boxes. Broadcasters have already invested billions in an unprecedented public-private partnership with government to bring the next generation of TV to American consumers. The very future of our business hinges on consumers’ ability to receive interference-free reception.”

MSTV president David Donovan explained, “Even if the devices worked as designed, they would not protect DTV sets from devastating interference. Interference will occur over a vast area, from the apartment next door or down the street. Data released by the FCC in March showed an interference zone of 80 to 87 percent of a television station’s service area.”

John Taylor, VP of public affairs at LG Electronics USA, offered a consumer electronics manufacturers view. “At a time when the FCC, Congress, consumer electronics manufacturers, broadcasters, public interest groups and other stakeholders are doing their very best to educate consumers on the digital transition, it would be a tragic mistake for the Commission to open the DTV spectrum to new, unproven devices that rely solely on ‘spectrum sensing’ - an approach demonstrated by the FCC’s own engineers to cause chronic interference.”

ESPN coordinating technical manager Jeff Willis warned, “White space interference has no timeline, no boundaries. It can occur in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded or as the kicking team lines up to kick the game winning field goal. The interference from these devices will render our use of wireless technology unreliable for telecast.”

In addition to the NAB announcement, see the Sports Technology Alliance news release and the Learfield Sports press release.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the message is getting through. An opinion piece in today’s LA Times Filling spectrum ‘white space’ doesn’t want interference to TV reception, but the writer, in spite of the FCC test results, believes unlicensed portable devices can be designed not to interfere with TV reception through the use of sensing technology, taking advantage of “at least 15 channels” that will be “left vacant after the analog TV cutoff in 2009.” A lot of people want “white space” to work. Even though the technical arguments or test data may be hard to understand, there is a lot of confidence that technology can solve the problem – after all, it has in the past. Perhaps a better way to look at the RF pollution from white space devices is to compare it with the light pollution in cities today. We now have well lit streets, driveways and parking lots, but we lost the night sky. Without a massive power outage, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting it back.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.