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NAB, MSTV appeal FCC white space order

The NAB and Association for Maximum Service Television asked a U.S. court of appeals Feb. 27 to set aside a Nov. 14, 2008, FCC order allowing the use of unlicensed devices in the TV spectrum.

At issue are new rules allowing unlicensed devices to operate in TV spectrum on channels that are unused by stations in a given geographic area. The authorization of these devices — particularly portable consumer devices that have no fixed point of operation — was widely seen in the TV industry as a major setback. The associations and broadcasters in general have raised concerns that the devices will cause harmful interference to TV transmissions.

“The commission’s decision to allow unlicensed access to the television spectrum will have a direct adverse impact on MSTV’s and NAB’s members because it will allow harmful interference with reception of their broadcast signals,” the court filing said.

The petition for review, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asked the court to “hold unlawful, vacate and set aside” the commission order authorizing the use of such devices in the TV band.

In November, the commission authorized use of the devices after several series of tests of prototype white space devices intended to determine if they could operate without causing interference to TV reception and wireless mics, many of which operate on unused TV channels. A key question the tests sought to answer was whether or not spectrum-sensing technology could be relied on to identify the presence of TV and wireless mic signals and, therefore, identify open frequencies for white space device operation.

In a report summarizing the first round of commission testing, the FCC Labs said it halted the tests after the prototypes generally failed to operate as intended. Subsequent testing included a variety of trials including field tests at an NFL stadium and in the Broadway theater district in New York City to determine if a subsequent generation of prototypes could identify if and on what bands wireless mics were being used. The tests revealed a high percentage of false positives for the presence of wireless mics.

The wireless mic issue is of particular concern to newsrooms that send reporters to the scene of breaking news. In many instances wireless mics are used as a standard piece of the larger electronic newsgathering package. While the FCC order authorizing unlicensed devices established safe zones around known high-use areas for wireless mics, itinerant news reports from the field have no such protection.

Proponents of allowing new unlicensed devices to operate in the TV band point to the consumer convenience and the economic benefits that will stem from their use.

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.