FCC Opens More TV Spectrum to Unlicensed

The FCC has voted to approve a report on technical and operational rules for unlicensed services, including wireless mics. The item will make more spectrum available for unlicensed devices in the TV band, a band being shrunk via the upcoming spectrum auction.

"The rules are intended to maximize unlicensed access to spectrum while ensuring that licensed services are protected from harmful interference," the FCC said.

The FCC will use the existing white spaces database to allow those devices to share ch. 37 with medical telemetry and astronomy, but with expanded protection zones for medical telemetry.

It will also boost power for unlicensed devices in rural areas.

Unlicensed will also be allowed in channels 14-20, again subject to the white space database that is meant to identify channels in real time that can be used.

Broadcasters have challenged the efficacy of those databases and their ability, in real time, to identify vacant channels and keep unlicensed devices from interfering with TV stations. NAB has said it is still fundamentally flawed as it stands, and cautioned against extending that flawed system.

“The Commission is committed to ensuring that the white spaces database is correct, and have taken the appropriate steps to do so," an FCC spokesperson told B&C in July. "We continue to work with the spectrum of stakeholders to accomplish that, including NAB, database providers and equipment manufacturers.”

Commissioner Pai praised the decision to expand the medical telemetry protection zones, which he had recommended. He voted to approve that part of the order.

Pai also put in a plug for freeing up more unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC was fulfilling its pledge to widen unlicensed use. He called them a common-sense set of procedures.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.