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White space database searches raise questions

Response to a recent Broadcast Engineering podcast on a new, interactive Web site designed to allow visitors to identify unused TV channels by locale generated several reader comments questioning the accuracy and efficacy of the new Internet destination.

The site,, was created by Lake Mary, FL-based Spectrum Bridge. Its stated purpose is “making TV white space easy for everyone to find and understand.”

Some newsletter readers didn’t see it that way. One reader commented that he entered his station’s Florida address into the site and received information back showing that his station’s post-transition digital channel assignment, as well as that of the local ABC affiliate, was vacant. “No wonder there’s concern about (unregulated) white space use,” he wrote.

Another reader in Oregon wrote to say that after testing the site by using his Portland address, the returned results showed all analog channels in the area as vacant. The results also showed the four digital channels that will be used for full-power DTV transmission once the June 12 transition deadline passes are open. The reader expressed his greatest concern about what the results showed for VHF Channel 6 and UHF Channel 44 in Portland. Both are shown as open, while the former is occupied by KOIN-TV’s analog signal and the latter is used by the station for its full-power digital signal.

Some of the inaccuracies are easily accounted for and correctable, said Peter Stanforth, Spectrum Bridge chief technology officer. Spectrum Bridge, like many others in the industry, finds itself in the position of having to respond to the government’s decision to postpone the DTV transition until June 12. As a result, many analog channels originally scheduled to be off the air and removed from the FCC database remain on the air, which accounts for some of the errors readers reported, Stanforth said. Since originally going live with the site, Spectrum Bridge has added a new filter, bouncing data off an older FCC database with analog channel assignments, he added.

Regarding the new Web site reporting inaccurate data related to DTV channels, problems should be minimal, Stanforth said. “We have found in a few situations that the FCC database is lagging the actual transition,” he said

According to Stanforth, instances have arisen in which a station owner has transitioned to digital, but the FCC contour database has not been updated to reflect that change. “It’s a temporary thing and could take a couple of iterations for the database to catch up in this state of flux,” he said.

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.