FCC Resolves White Spaces Issues

The FCC has sent the signal that allowing the so-called white spaces between TV channels to be used for fixed and mobile wireless devices are ready for prime time.

That came in a report and order adopted Wednesday, March 20. The FCC also resolved a number of petitions to reconsider (recon) the TV White Spaces Order that initially opened up the spectrum to broadband. 

Specifically, the FCC finalized its reconsideration proceeding and its database accuracy proceeding so that broadband providers can invest in rural connectivity. 

The FCC is permitting the use of white space devices (notably computers), both fixed and mobile, in unused channels, ch. 37, guard bands between broadcast and wireless spectrum and between uplink and downlink spectrum in the 600 MHz band--which they are sharing after the incentive auction. 

 Related: Senators Press FCC for White Spaces Action 

It is part of the FCC's focus on freeing up more spectrum for advanced wireless and closing the rural digital divide, which computer companies argue "white spaces" play a key role. 

Microsoft, Google and other computer companies on one side and the National Association of Broadcasters on the other have been at loggerheads over the issue. Microsoft has been pushing for as much spectrum as possible, saying that remote sensing technology can seek out and avoid TV channels in real time, preventing the sort of interference NAB said current remote sensing technology has not been proven to provide.  

NAB wanted the FCC to vet the sensing technology before opening the floodgates, as it were. 

The FCC order does require that white spaces devices include internal geo-location capability, both for outdoor and indoor use, and that the devices automatically provide coordinates to the database that is meant to map out the TV frequencies to avoid. 

That is a victory for NAB, which sought the geo-location, and a defeat for Microsoft, which suggested the automatic capability was not necessary. The FCC took a little off it by denying NAB's request that it tighten geo-location accuracy requirements. 

“NAB appreciates the FCC’s decision to strengthen its white spaces rules. Requiring automatic geo-location in white spaces devices will help increase accuracy and protect television viewers from harmful interference.” 

NAB wanted the FCC to require a wired connection between a remote geo-location source and a fixed white space device, rather than a wireless connection, but the FCC sided with Microsoft on that point, and also said it would not limit the distance between that remote location and the device, something else NAB wanted.

NAB had asked that the FCC require the devices to identify their height above ground, but the FCC declined to do so.

White space device makers have until six months after the rules are adopted to bring their technology in line with the new rules, but the FCC said adding geo-location will require recertification. It was initially going to allow the change without recertification, but concluded that "incorporating an internal geo-location capability into a fixed white space device would necessitate hardware modifications, resulting in a device that is not electrically identical to the originally approved device." 

NAB challenged the FCC's decision to allow use of low-power fixed devices within a TV station's contour because the potential for interference is greater than the FCC suggests. The FCC was "not persuaded that permitting such operation poses a significant threat of harmful interference to adjacent channel television reception." 

And while NAB wanted the FCC to limit antenna heights to 30 meters, the FCC will allow taller antennas in areas of less congestion.  

“We are excited to see the Commission using its authority to remove regulatory barriers so that every American can participate in the digital economy," said ACT-The App Association president Morgan Reed. "Today’s action furthers the FCC’s unfettered commitment to bridging the digital divide and will better position the United States as a leader in the networked economy. Our membership represents small to medium-sized app developers across all 435 congressional districts. In particular, many of our members are located in rural areas that traditional networks cannot reach. TVWS-enabled wireless connectivity, along with all the Commission’s work related to wireless infrastructure deployment, will allow these small businesses to grow and contribute to local economies.” 

“This action shows that the Commission has been listening to the concerns of rural Americans, and we appreciate their continued commitment to bridging the rural broadband gap," said Connect Americans Now executive director Richard Cullen. "While this vote is a step in the right direction for internet service providers and equipment manufacturers eager to use TV white spaces technology to bring broadband to rural areas, there are still a number of outstanding regulatory barriers.

“We encourage the Commission to build on this momentum by immediately issuing a Further Notice of Rulemaking to address the outstanding regulatory issues hindering TV white space technology’s deployment." 

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.