Unlicensed devices threaten DTV reception

Proposed government legislation that would allow unlicensed devices to be used in “White Space” broadcast spectrum that protects DTV signals from interference was front and center at MSTV’s (Maximum Service Television) 20th annual television conference on Oct. 3 at Washington DC’s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Elizabeth Murphy Burns, president Morgan Murphy Stations MSTV chairman, said the TV industry needs to come together to protects the integrity of over-the-air DTV signals. “We don’t want consumers returning digital receivers to stores because of interference from unlicensed devices,” she said. “We believe [those who want to allow unlicensed devices into the spectrum] need to prove a heavy burden proving there won’t be interference.”

Companies like Intel, Dell and Microsoft have been pushing for access to White Space spectrum. The goal? To allow consumers in rural areas who don’t have access to broadband services from cable or DSL providers to ride the airwaves and use wireless technology to connect to the Internet.

But Paul McTear, Raycom Media president and CEO, added that unlicensed devices will cause extreme havoc with the digital transition. “There will be freezing DTV pictures and I don’t think there is any proof from consumer device makers that they can prevent interference,” he says.

The broadcast industry, with respect to that call for proof, scored a major victory when

the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice stating that it needs additional technical information concerning unlicensed devices in the TV band.

“This is good news,” said Dave Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Services Television (MSTV), an organization that has been instrumental in the fight for spectrum integrity. “The bottom line is this a very technical issue and it deserves to be resolved by the experts at the FCC. We’re looking forward to working with them.”

The FCC says that after reviewing comments from broadcasters, other TV spectrum users and manufacturers and users of unlicensed devices it did not have enough information to adopt final technical rules. “There is no information in the record as to key criteria that would need to be specified to allow the use of that technique, such as the required levels for sensing, spectrum to be scanned, and durations for the sensing,” the FCC said in a statement.

With only 865 days until the analog turn off Paul Karpowicz, Meredith Broadcast Group president, said his concern is that efforts to drive DTV adoption, particulary in small and mid-level markets, is lacking.

“There are still communities that are uneducated and don’t know how to buy a set, let along get a signal,” he said. “The industry has a responsibility to use our own airwaves to make consumers more educated than they are today. And NAB and MSTV have a role in shaping and directing that communication. But it’s important because while 60% of consumers have cable that doesn’t account for second and third TV sets in the basement.”