White Space Update: FCC Database Plan a Start, Not an End

The White Space issue is heating up again as last year’s decision by the FCC to allow for unlicensed devices to be allowed in the spectrum used by wireless microphones is running into the hard reality of the next step: the creation of a database that would allow those who use wireless microphones to be protected. Louis Libin, an SVG Advisory Board member who also works closely with U.S. broadcasters and major sports associations like the USTA and USGA, is representing the interests of SVG and its members in Washington, DC, recently attended an FCC workshop on the creation of that database. The following is his report on recent developments.

Last year’s actual FCC order allowing unlicensed devices to operate in White Space spectrum was delayed by lawsuits from broadcasters, church groups, and even from Hollywood superstars, all of whom argued such use of the spectrum could interfere with TV stations and wireless microphones. In spite of the opposition, the FCC did give the green light to “white space” devices—unlicensed wireless gadgets that can create broadband connections in prime, unused television bands, however, it does also require that these services use a geolocation system to determine whether a specific TV frequency is in use in that location. The system will constantly update a database of all TV signals and unlicensed devices.

Unfortunately the details are still being developed, it is a complicated system; registration and updating, then sending the signals to the devices themselves.

In November, 2009, the Commission made an official request for white space database administrators. The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has now designated nine companies as white-space device database administrators: Comsearch, Frequency Finder, Google, KB Enterprises, LS Telecom, Key Bridge Global, Neustar, Spectrum Bridge, Telcordia and WSdb.

The challenge ahead is immense. Precise and completely coordinated databases are necessary to determine what white-space channels to use since the spectrum consists of slivers of 700 MHz channels freed by the transition of TV channels from analog to digital. Using geolocation, the databases are to detect interference with TV broadcasts and other signals and allow white-space devices to jump to free spectrum.

The nine administrators of the databases will build systems that will tell TV band devices what channels they can transmit on without causing interference to TV broadcast stations, wireless microphones and other authorized broadcast auxiliary services.

The FCC, according to the current plan, will monitor the database administrators. In the Order (DA 11-131) announcing the database administrators, the FCC said, “we… require each database administrator to coordinate closely with the agency to ensure competency, consistency and compliance with the rules and the database trials.”

There has been some testing of the database and more is needed. Each database is subject to a trial period of at least 45 days before it will be made available for actual use by TV bands devices. All interested parties have an opportunity to verify the database is providing accurate results.

Recently the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) conducted three mandatory workshops with database administrators to “address implementation issues.” During the workshop each database administrator had to show its database will comply with the rules.

The designation of multiple database providers could potentially make it more difficult for users of wireless microphones to obtain protection. For example will users of wireless microphones need to submit information on devices and the times and locations where they will be used to different database providers seeking the same information in different formats? At present, it seems like this is not the case. But even though the rules have now been set, it is incumbent on broadcasters as well as the FCC to monitor and “fine tune” the database process and the nine database coordinators to see how well they are protecting their operations.

The FCC said that: While it is true that the company would be collecting certain information about competitors’ products, the same basic concern applies to all other database administrators as they could make that same information available to manufacturers of TV bands devices. To address this industry-wide concern, we prohibit all database administrators from using the information collected to engage in anti-competitive practices, either by using the information themselves or providing it to third parties. We will oversee the continued database developmental work to ensure that all database administrators comply with requirements in the rules to make service available to all TV bands device users on a non-discriminatory basis.

The OET also said it intends to “exercise strong oversight of the TV bands databases and administrators.” All of the database providers will be required to attend workshops where the OET will show them how to comply with the database rules, identify tasks required by each administrator and establish milestone dates for reporting on the completion of identified tasks.

“Each database administrator must cooperate with any steps OET deems necessary to ensure that the TV bands databases provide accurate and consistent lists of protected services and available channels. Further, they must support capabilities that OET deems necessary to ensure that any changes in registration of protected facilities in one database are rapidly reflected in all others,” the order said.

The last of the three planned FCC “TV Bands Database Administrator” workshops has just ended. Many questions remain, but the FCC was very open in discussing and accepting suggestions to make the database registration more efficient, more effective and less costly to the users. The issue of cost has not been widely discussed by the FCC. It is the broadcasters who bear the burden of the as yet unknown costs. The FCC has said that they will be as flexible as possible. There remains the issue of different registration methods for licensed users and unlicensed users. Who is responsible for registering for large events? Is there a simple method for registering large venues; a golf course may require 25 separate registration contours! What about scheduling one-time events? Recurring? The need to to re-register every year,

The FCC will begin an outreach program to teach broadcasters on exactly how the white space exclusion registration system will operate. All the details need to be finalized before this begins; the FCC needs to present a functioning plan, not a conceptual discussion or progress will stall.

Louis Libin is an expert in the development of wireless communications and has over twenty-five years experience in media management, from business and strategy development, project management for developing nations, to serving as the United States spokesman on wireless and interactive data systems the (ITU) UN in Geneva. Well known as a professional advisor in the telecom, software and communications industries. Libin has advised clients regarding FCC issues for over two decades and has been instrumental in preparing and filing hundreds of FCC applications. Libin is the frequency coordinator for New York. Libin has been profiled in many newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times.

Libin is founder and President of Broad Comm, Inc., a technology consulting group. Clients include General Electric, NBC, ABC, CBS, Turner, Olympic Committees (now Vancouver), equipment manufacturers, foreign governments and a myriad of media start-ups. Libin was the lead consult for the first AOL TV hardware. Libin also developed the first IPTV set-top box. Libin has successfully served as an officer or director of many companies and has brought alliances to including General Electric, NetWolves, Andrea Electronics, Bioneutral, I2Telecom, Lumio (The virtual keyboard). Libin also advised the US State Department on communications projects, NASA, the NFL, the NBA, the PGA, among others.

He can be reached at [email protected]


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