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Broadcasters, cable industry line up in opposition to Wi-Fi proposal

Broadcasters, cable service providers and industry associations are opposed to an FCC proposal to allow unlicensed Wi-Fi devices to use unoccupied frequencies between channel 2 and 51.

The proposal, part of an FCC effort to spur development of new wireless technology, is a cause for worry. A filing from the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) urged the FCC “to thoroughly test the compatibility of unlicensed devices with incumbent broadcast services and employ additional safeguards before permitting such devices to be operated using spectrum that is currently allocated for broadcast television.” Even then, the APTS urged, unlicensed devices should be allowed only after the transition to DTV has been completed in the relevant markets.

In a filing from the NAB and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), the associations said the proposal comes at a time that is “particularly troubling during the transition to digital television, which is at a critical but fluid point in its development.” The associations’ filing said that because reception of a digital transmission is an all or nothing proposition, anything that interferes with DTV signals would likely cause consumers to regard the new television system to be unreliable.

Wi-Fi devices could also impact cable service because many cable systems receive their broadcast programming via antennas and could be subject to interference, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said in a filing. The group said that there are many instances where broadcast signals are received at the cable headend at locations outside of the Grade B contour, many of which signals are deemed “must-carry.”

“Under the proposed rules, unlicensed devices will be able to transmit on channels used for receipt of distant broadcast television signals, therefore increasing the likelihood that there will be interference with a local broadcast signal received from outside the Grade B contour, particularly in rural markets,” the NCTA said.

On the other side of the issue, a coalition of 22 public interest groups, including the Media Access Project, Consumer Federation of America, Common Cause and Public Knowledge, argued to the FCC that such devices can operate in the broadcast bands without causing harmful interference. The Wi-Fi industry views TV spectrum, which is in the lower-frequency bands that let signals travel farther and better penetrate buildings and foliage, as especially valuable because it allows more seamless service, lowers cost and requires fewer antennas.

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