NCTA to FCC: No Wireless Receiver Mandates, Please

A 5G graphic
(Image credit: Dong Wenjie via Getty Images)

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association is joining Big Tech companies in trying to head off any Federal Communications Commission effort to establish “one-size-fits-all” standards for 5G receivers, and cable has a big dog in the fight.

NCTA pointed out in comments this week that cable operators are both incumbent licenseholders — whose satellite programming transmissions can be affected by harmful wireless interference — as well as operators of “the largest WiFi networks in the country.” Unlicensed WiFi has been cable’s big competitive play in the wireless internet access space through hot spots that blanked the landscape.

Rules to prevent new services from causing such harmful interference are absolutely necessary, NCTA said, but locking in receiver mandates would “limit overall utility and spectrum efficiency, make deployment unnecessarily expensive, and undermine innovation and deployment, which ultimately harms consumers.”

Also: CTA Says Receiver Mandates Could Stifle Innovation

And while NCTA agrees the FCC should look at the receiver side of the equation — it has been focused on transmitters and there is some debate over whether the agency has authority over the consumer-facing receiver side — the association told the regulator it should not single out unlicensed receivers for special regulatory treatment.

It says a flexible approach featuring incentives and good-faith collaboration is the better way to go.

The FCC in April opened an inquiry into setting wireless receiver standards, one of several routes the regulator could take, alone or in tandem, to protect signals in increasingly crowded spectrum bands, a road map laid out by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel back in April. “We recognize that a variety of approaches may be appropriate, whether through industry-led voluntary measures, Commission policy and guidance, or rule requirements where other approaches would be insufficient,” she said after the FCC approved the notice of inquiry (NOI).

The NOI was unanimous, but that was not necessarily an indication of any unanimity on which approach to take. At this stage the NOI is only an effort to collect info on how to improve receiver performance and expand the FCC's traditional focus beyond transmitters alone.

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The heavy lifting will be when the FCC comes up with a proposed new approach — or if, since the FCC has tried to address receiver standards in the past without coming up with a new way forward.

NCTA has some definite suggestions. It told the commission it should not adopt “specific receiver performance or design rules or mandate standards” because those are “time-intensive and difficult to design and implement across services and industries, and would be inherently less adaptable to specific circumstances.” ■

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.