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NAB to FCC: Don't Muck Up White Spaces Compromise

The National Association of Broadcasters is warning the FCC not to mess with the hard-fought compromise broadcasters struck with Microsoft over freeing up more white spaces spectrum for 5G, particularly in rural areas, while not interfering with broadcasters sharing the spectrum band. 

White spaces are the vacant spectrum between TV station signals. 

In comments on the FCC's white spaces proposal, which was unanimously adopted Feb. 28, the National Association of Broadcasters signaled three moves that would threaten that compromise, discouraging the FCC from "introducing novel interpretations of its longstanding rules that will jeopardize existing and future television service." 

First, it took issue with the FCC's suggestion that it needed to balance unlicensed- and licensed-use trade-offs when it came to potential interference. NAB said the FCC's rules could not be clearer that unlicensed devices can't interference with licensed ones (broadcast TV), period. Full stop. No balancing of interests, but a categorical prohibition on the unlicensed service interfering with the licensed one. 

Second, it said, the FCC should not replace Microsoft's specific coordination process for preventing interference with a "less burdensome" process that NAB suggests is a short-cut to interference issues. 

Related: Microsoft Pushes FCC to Act on White Spaces Petition 

Third, and arguably most important, NAB said the FCC should not consider higher-power operations in the first channel adjacent to a broadcast TV signal. Microsoft still thinks the two can coexist, but was OK with the FCC seeking further comment on it. 

NAB's further comment was like its initial one. "[N]othing has changed regarding white spaces technology, broadcast technology, or the laws of physics that would warrant reexamination of the Commission’s existing rules with respect to first-adjacent channel operations," it told the FCC. 

It has been more than a year since the FCC put its white spaces agenda on hold while it encouraged Microsoft and broadcasters to hash out a spectrum-sharing agreement for wireless broadband. At that time, FCC chairman Ajit Pai (during Congressional testimony) cited the “tricky” technical and policy matters the agency needs to address even as Microsoft and TV stations try to find a middle ground on the band’s use. 

Microsoft and NAB ultimately agreed on four of the computer company's five proposals, the holdout being the high-power on adjacent-channel issue. 

Related: Sen. Warner Urges FCC to Open Up More White Spaces 

The FCC is proposing to allow for taller towers and higher powers for mobile and fixed wireless so signals can reach farther and over more difficult terrain. It would also allow higher powered service in "geofenced" areas and promote IoT-based services, Warner points out.