There nail-spitting continues over the use of unlicensed transmission devices in taboo TV channels, otherwise known as “white space.” The channels have traditionally been left unlicensed to prevent interference to and between TV station signals. However, with the increased dissemination of digital communications devices and the push for wireless broadband, the taboo channels have become a source of conflict.
On one side, broadcasters fear that allowing thousands of untrackable transmitters in the TV spectrum will wreak havoc with DTV reception, which in some cases is already a bit dodgey. (See “Free TV Eludes Me”.) FCC rules prohibit devices that interfere with TV signals, but unlicensed mobile transmitters would be nearly impossible to trace. By the time a TV viewer figured out who to call about the problem, the device and its owner would likely be long gone.
That“s assuming a TV viewer had the most remote clue about the source of the interference, rather than just kicking the TV, switching channels, or calling the cable company to sign up.
The FCC has been conducting field tests on unlicensed devices, most recently at FedEx Field in Maryland and on the Great White Way in New York City. The devices are supposed to detect incumbent signals and either hop to other available spectrum or shut down. Some did not.
Device makers noted that the technology was still under development and that certain aspects functioned properly. Motorola, for example said its geo-location technology worked properly.
Broadcast lobbies and wireless mic makers, who also have skin in the game, said the devices failed to demonstrate noninterference. Shure, the Niles, Ill., microphone company, said “the devices failed to accurately sense wireless microphone transmissions” during the FedEx Field tests.
Proponents of unlicensed devices are dismissive of broadcasters“ concerns. Harold Feld, senior vice president of the Media Access Project, was right-down catty about Shure.
“As folks may recall,” Feld wrote in his policy blog, “the primary opponents of opening the broadcast white spaces for use, the broadcasters and the wireless microphone manufacturers--notably our good friend and radio pirate Shure, Inc. (official slogan: “We get to break the law “cause we sound so good.“”)--insisted that the FCC conduct field tests on the white spaces prototypes.
“Of course, because these are concept prototypes and not functioning devices certified to some actual standard, everyone knew this would leave lots of leeway for the broadcasters and the wireless microphone folks to declare the tests a “failure“ regardless of the actual results.”
Google, another proponent of unlicensed devices, has launched Free the Airwaves, a Web site expounding the virtues of tapping the white space.
“Remember that fuzzy static between channels on the old TVs?” the site states. “Today more than three-quarters of those radio airwaves, or "white space" spectrum, are completely unused. This vast public resource could offer a revolution in wireless services of all kinds, including universal wireless Internet.”
The site fails to mention that Google stands to make a mint on unlicensed devices, and how anyone with enough Google stock would logically be sending post cards to Capitol Hill.
David Donovan, chief of the Association for Maximum Service Television, was one of the first people in the broadcast industry to oppose the white space movement. Donovan said Google“s Web site should be renamed “Interfere with the Free Airwaves Campaign.”
“American consumers, who have invested billions of dollars in new digital television sets, deserve to have interference-free over-the-air digital television,” Donovan said. “This investment should not be undermined by a few companies simply because they want access to spectrum.”
The saga continues.
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