FCC takes closer look at White Spaces issue

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Sports RF professionals and TV broadcasters who fought the good fight against impending Federal legislation that would allow for unlicensed consumer devices to be operated in White Spaces spectrum scored a victory when the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice stating that it needs additional technical information concerning unlicensed devices in the TV band.

The move by the FCC effectively tables any plans to pass laws that would allow unlicensed devices into White Spaces spectrum.

“This is good news,” says Dave Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Services Television (MSTV), an organization that has been instrumental in the fight for spectrum integrity. “The bottom line is this a very technical issue and it deserves to be resolved by the experts at the FCC. We’re looking forward to working with them.”

The FCC says that after reviewing comments from broadcasters, other TV spectrum users and manufacturers and users of unlicensed devices it did not have enough information to adopt final technical rules. At the center of its decision was a lack-of-trust in auto-sensing technology that consumer electronics proponents have said would ensure unlicensed devices would not interfere with licensed devices.

“There is no information in the record as to key criteria that would need to be specified to allow the use of that technique, such as the required levels for sensing, spectrum to be scanned, and durations for the sensing,” the FCC said in a statement. “Accordingly, the Office of Engineering and Technology is developing a First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making that would make initial decisions and specific technical proposals necessary to adopt complete and final rules.”

Donovan says the FCC’s timetable, while aggressive, will do the right things. “It allows for examining a baseline of interference for TV receivers and asking those who are promoting allowing unlicensed devices to have those devices tested before final approval,” he says.

The FCC says the proposed schedule provides sufficient time to develop appropriate technical standards to prevent interference to TV broadcasting and other services, as well as sufficient lead time for industry to design and produce new unlicensed products that would be available for sale to the public at the completion of the DTV transition on February 17, 2009.

“All the rhetoric and politics is about who can scream the loudest and lobbyists for the telcos and others have done a better job than those who make a living working with wireless technologies,” says Lou Libin, president of Broad Comm. “But industry gatherings have helped us get heard.”

Libin and Donovan urge those who have been involved with the fight to remain diligent. “This is just the beginning,” says Libin. “Even though we’re happy we can’t sit back and relax. It just means that after 15 years of calling [the FCC] there is finally someone else on the other end of the line. It means some momentum in credibility.”

The industry, says Libin, needs to continue to sound the alarm and work as a group to make sure the news, sports and live performance needs continue to be considered in future legislation.

“We’re getting better at frequency co-ordination but we need to let the Federal government know how hard it is and that, at one point, it will be nearly impossible,” says Libin.

Fred Fellmeth, Total RF COO, says that while the move by the FCC is a good one it doesn’t completely address the issues facing the sports RF industry. “Unlike broadcasters who have a fixed, static transmitter we’re itinerant, moving from golf course to golf course and football stadium to football stadium,” he says. “But it looks like the congressional attack has been stalemated.”

Future efforts to ensure spectrum integrity will hinge on ensuring that studies of spectrum use doesn’t include tricks like measuring spectrum availability at 3 a.m. and then presenting that as evidence that spectrum is widely available. “Any measurement of spectrum use needs to be done when the airwaves are full of live news and other audio and video transmissions,” says Libin.

It’s also very clear that concerns about wireless microphones were heard. “We can now move beyond the political rhetoric to the technical work,” says Donovan.

The FCC’s timetable is as follows:

October 2006: Commission adopts a First Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making

March 200: FCC Laboratory reports the results of measurements of the interference rejection capabilities of DTV receivers

July 2007: FCC Laboratory reports the results of tests evaluating potential interference from unlicensed devices to TV and other radio services

October 2007: Commission adopts a Second Report and Order specifying final technical requirements for unlicensed devices that operate in the TV bands

December 2007: FCC Laboratory begins accepting applications for certification of unlicensed devices operating in the TV bands;certification will be granted at such time as the application has been reviewed and found to comply with the rules; certification will permit manufacture and shipment of products to distribution points

February 2009: Products will be available for sale at retail

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