Microsoft Petitions FCC for White Spaces Rulemaking

Microsoft has asked the FCC to launch a notice of proposed rulemaking (an NPRM) on its proposed changes to the 2014 rules for allowing unlicensed use of the so-called white spaces between channels in TV's licensed spectrum. 

The computer company has filed a petition for rulemaking in hopes of getting action, pointing out that the National Association of Broadcasters, which has had lots of issues with potential white space device interference in the past, has said it can support some of those changes and signaled it was time for the FCC to get moving on proposing them and collecting comment. 

An NPRM will allow the FCC to get stakeholder input before making a final decision, but it gets that final decisionmaking process going. 

Microsoft has pitched the "white spaces" spectrum as crucial to closing the rural digital divide (Microsoft's Airband initiative) and handling and connecting more people to anTh increasingly connected world. "These changes will support the expansion and affordability of broadband service in rural communities and enable innovative use of White Space channels for narrowband Internet of ings (“IoT”) devices," it told the commission. 

"The 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking [on white spaces] focused primarily on changes needed to ensure a smooth incentive auction," it told the FCC. The auction closed in April 2017, two years ago. The time is now right to address a limited number of refinements to the rules to promote further rural deployment." 

Specifically, Microsoft is officially asking the FCC to: 

1. "Permit fixed WSDs in the second-adjacent channel to broadcasters in less congested areas to operate at a higher radiated power limit, consistent with the methodology used in Section 15.712(a)(2)(iv); 

2. "Permit fixed WSDs to operate at greater than 40 mW on the first-adjacent channel at locations within the protected contour where the potential for harmful interference islow;

3. "Permit fixed WSDs to operate at heights above average terrain of up to 500 meters,consistent with the methodology used in Section 15.712(a)(2)(iv) and subject to aspecial set of coordination procedures modeled on the Commission’s Part 101 rules;

4. "Foster the development of narrowband WSDs that can support IoT applications by modifying existing technical and operational rules and providing licensees the samelevel of protection from harmful interference as the rules for broadband WSDs; and

5. "Permit geofenced operation of fixed WSDs on mobile platforms. "

While NAB and Microsoft disagree on a number of issues, including how effective remote sensing technology is in preventing interference to broadcast signals and the use of adjacent channels, in a letter to the FCC in March, NAB said that after discussions with the computer giant, it agrees the FCC should at least seek comment on some of Microsoft's suggestions for boosting operations in rural areas while protecting licensed operations and also asked the FCC to launch a new rulemaking to do that. 

Given that the FCC is laser focused on closing the rural divide, including using white spaces, NAB did not hurt itself by at least agreeing to run the proposal's up the digital antenna.

Related: NAB Considers White Spaces Proposal for Rural's Sake

Specifically, NAB says that, as Microsoft proposes, it 1) may be possible to allow for higher power limits in less congested (rural) areas; 2) may be possible to permit device operations at higher points above average terrain (up to 500 meters) in rural areas without materially increasing the chances of harmful interference; 3) may be possible to allow fixed TV white spaces (TVWS) operations on movable platforms--school buses and farm equipment, for example, but not aircrafts, ships or satellites--so long as there is a location check every 60 seconds; and 4) to support the use of TVWS for narrowband IoT. 

But, NAB also told the FCC back in March that it strongly opposes authorizing higher power operations on the first-adjacent channel to broadcasters licensed service. That is one proposal NAB does not want the FCC considering yet, much less adopting, at least not until there is a new generation of receivers, which is years down the line. 

“NAB and Microsoft have discussed the issues in Microsoft’s petition," said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. "While we don’t agree on every issue, we believe the Commission can move forward with several of Microsoft’s proposals. We look forward to working with the FCC and Microsoft to develop rules that allow greater flexibility for white spaces operation in rural areas while continuing to protect broadcasters.”

“Simply put, increasing power and height and relaxing out-of-band emission limits will create more opportunities for rural broadband access,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Provicers Association (WISPA), in a statement. “Microsoft’s proposal would improve the service range and capacity of networks operating in the White Space spectrum. This proposal would provide WISPs a formidable tool to invest in, develop and deploy innovative broadband solutions for unserved and underserved areas in rural America, helping these communities truly compete in the global, digital economy.”

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.