Tech Groups: TV Signal Spill-Over Should Be Deemed 'Unlicensed'

(Image credit: Future Media)

New America's Open Technology Institute, joined by Public Knowledge, has told the FCC that broadcasters invocation of their licenses to defend allowing them to extend their broadcast signals to the edges, and perhaps beyond, of their markets is off base. 

OTI and company are big backers of using the "white spaces" spectrum between TV stations for wireless broadband, with OTI funder Microsoft heavily engaged in that effort. The more of that spectrum broadcasters get to use for TV, the less is available for wireless broadband, and there's the rub.

Related: NAB, APTS Say Unlicensed Have No Use Rights

Broadcasters argue that extending their reach through distributed transmission systems (DTS) is a public interest use of the licensed spectrum, and that unlicensed white spaces users must always give the right of way to licensed use, a point they made to the FCC this week in their own comments.

They have petitioned the FCC to allow them to use the smaller, on-channel DTS systems to improve viewers' reception of their licensed service, with any spillover beyond the edge of a market also in the public interest as broadcasters transition to the ATSC 3.0 transmission system that will allow for more targeted emergency alerts, interactivity, better pictures and sound, and potential broadcast internet offerings.

But OTI and Public Knowledge are pushing back hard, asking the FCC to deny the petition and saying it would be premature to relax limits on DTS spillover beyond a station's authorized service area. 

As to protecting broadcast spillover signals, they say the FCC rules already overprotect spillover and it should not compound the problem by giving them primary or even secondary rights. They agreed with Microsoft that the FCC should treat spillover signals as unlicensed, and thus not being able to assert interference protections over unlicensed white spaces transmissions.

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.