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White Space: Broadcasters Fight Movement to 'Eliminate' Free TV

(From Doug Lung's RF Report.)

The big vote (on white space rules) is just days away.

Broadcasters, in a supplement to their emergency request for a new comment period filed last Friday, provided a detailed analysis of the "serious risks to the public's television service" that would be posed by 40 mW WSD (white space device) adjacent channel operations, which are reported to be under consideration by the FCC.

The broadcasters' filing was signed by the Association for Maximum Service Television, the Association of Public Television Stations, the Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal, CBS Corp. and News Corp. It warns, "As recent comments by white spaces proponents show, it is absolutely critical for the Commission to protect the public's free, over-the-air broadcasting service not just from interference from white spaces devices but from a movement to totally eliminate television broadcasting."

Some of the comments of white space proponents the broadcasters cite include:

  • "[I]n a few years a second phase of the DTV transition should get TV off the air."
  • "Take TV off the air' in a few years."
  • "[O]ver-the-air broadcasts should be replaced entirely by cable, satellite and Internet viewing."

The broadcasters also cited white space proponents' plans to increase their power levels over time. "The FCC proposes to limit devices to 40 milliwatts of power in white-space channels adjacent to TV stations, but 'we're going to push that up over time,'" the broadcasters quote one executive as saying. Mark McHenry, CEO of Shared Spectrum Co., said, according to the broadcasters, "The FCC is going to start conservatively, but we're going to wear them down. In a few years, we're going to be at 10 W all over the place." Of course, at these power levels, not only will free over-the-air TV reception be impossible in locations where WSDs are in use, but cable TV reception will be impaired as well.

What's more, an article Tuesday, Skip the Cable TV and Go Straight to Broadband, at, questions the need for conventional TV, noting that people can watch their favorite shows over the Internet. "The bottom line is that mass availability of wireless broadband Internet could eventually make cable TV irrelevant; even obsolete."

The broadcasters also reiterated their insistence that the findings of the OET Report do not support, and in fact rebut, its conclusion that the tests provide a "proof of concept" for sensing as a reliable means of avoiding interference. "Especially once such devices are in the field by the hundreds of thousands, there is no practical cure for prior miscalculation," the broadcasters wrote.

According to the broadcasters' filing, their study shows interference from a 40 mW device on the first adjacent channel begins at about 25 miles from the TV tower when the distance from the unlicensed device to the TV set is approximately 10 meters. At the edge of the station's service area 50 miles away, a WSD 45 to 50 meters from the TV receivers causes interference. This is based on a TV receiver of "median quality". If the TV antenna is in an area obstructed by terrain or buildings, interference will occur closer than 25 miles to the TV tower.

The broadcasters conclude:

"The undersigned parties urge the Commission (1) to protect nation's free, over-the-air broadcast television service, licensed wireless microphone use, and cable operations, and (2) to move forward with the compromise proposal submitted by MSTV on September 30. And, in any event, the Commission should not provisionally, conditionally, or in any other manner authorize devices that rely exclusively on sensing or adjacent-channel operations at more than 5 mW without first putting out for public comment the OET Report with particular focus on whether the data it lays out in great detail support the conclusions set forth in the first few general paragraphs of the report."

In a previous filing, broadcasters noted that OET's tests demonstrated that sensing is a dead-end technology, but that geolocation "can be a basis for authorizing unlicensed devices if it s accompanied by (1) a complete, reliable, and continually updated database, (2) a viable solution for continued use of licensed wireless microphones, (3) effective protection for cable operations on all channels, (4) effective protection for the public's broadcast service on first-adjacent channels, and (5) a rigorous certification regime—all of which we believe are achievable goals."

The cable industry advocated a 10 mW power limitation on all channels in order to protect cable viewers.

Industry lobbying continues. Monday (Oct. 20), Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates entered the campaign personally, speaking by telephone with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioner Michael Copps. Gates commended the FCC for its work in the white spaces proceeding, and for seeking to adopt final white space rules at its November meeting.

"Mr. Gates observed that adopting the flexible operating rules advocated by the White Spaces Coalition is essential in enabling white space devices that will provide affordable broadband opportunities and create new markets for innovative applications and services," Microsoft's filing on the meeting said.

Gates emphasized the need to conclude the proceeding on Nov. 4. As reported last week, the FCC listed the white space devices order on the agenda for its Nov. 4 open meeting.

Motorola CEO Greg Brown and Steve Sharkey, senior director for regulatory and spectrum policy spoke with FCC Chairman Martin and his legal advisor Charles Martin on Wednesday. Motorola urged the FCC to move forward with adoption of rules at the Nov. 4 meeting.

"The significant potential that unlicensed use of the white spaces will have for cost effective deployment of a wide variety of fixed and mobile broadband services, particularly for enhancing broadband deployment to rural areas," Motorola said in its filing on the meeting. "Access to broadband services is an important economic growth engine providing new opportunities to American businesses and consumers that live and compete in an increasingly connected world."

Brown also said the Motorola geolocation-enabled technology has support from the broadcast community and "was proven to provide highly reliable protection in the Commission's testing."

The ex parte notice adds, "Providing flexibility for sensing-only devices pursuant to additional testing to ensure that commercial products can fully protect incumbents makes sense. Motorola supports the Commission moving forward on this well balanced proposal."

If you are interested in receiving free TV over-the-air or by cable, it is important you let your congressman know that WSDs are not an acceptable substitute for free HDTV and real-time news and weather information. If local TV broadcasters aren't there to deliver emergency information and real-time coverage, who will? Many people supporting WSDs do not understand the impact they will have on their TV reception and that of their neighbors. Others do and, as the comments show, don't care.

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.