FCC unleashes unlicensed devices into TV white spaces


By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the FCC approved a plan to open the spectrum holes between television stations to unlicensed devices, a move expected to increase consumer options in acquiring broadband service. The plan did take care to provide protection to incumbent television stations and the users of wireless microphones.

Television stations will be protected two ways. First, the FCC will establish and maintain a geolocation database identifying all licensed incumbents in the spectrum.

Wireless microphones will be protected by allocating two local channels for them to use exclusively. The FCC’s Hugh Van Tuyl said that would accommodate 16 wireless mics, which he thought was enough space in most markets. Wireless mics would be able to operate in other white spaces and apply for inclusion in the approved device database as well.

MSTV’s David Donovan pledged to remain on the case to assure that broadcasters are adequately protected as its new unlicensed neighbors start to show up. He said, “As with most highly technical decisions, ‘the devil is in the details,’ and those details must be explored fully. We look forward to continuing our work with the Commission to ensure that tens of millions of Americans will be able to enjoy the benefits of over-the-air digital television and that local stations will be able to use licensed wireless microphones as they fulfill their mission to provide news coverage, especially during emergencies.”

NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton added, “NAB’s overriding goal in this proceeding has been to ensure America’s continued interference-free access to high quality news, entertainment and sports provided by free and local television stations. We look forward to reviewing the details of today’s ruling.”

Commissioner Meredith Baker underscored the importance of protecting television stations. She said that the geolocation database needed to be extremely accurate and meticulously maintained.

Commissioner Robert McDowell offered the opinion that the advent of internet access providers in the space eliminated the need to continue with network neutrality proceedings. McDowell is on record with his belief that network neutrality rules are unnecessary, and he said that the new competition makes them even more unnecessary.

RBR-TVBR observation: We are not engineers, but we do know that for years, broadcast interests with engineering expertise have been raising loud alarms about the white space proceeding. We think the fact that this Second Memorandum Opinion and Order has been accomplished by the FCC in relative peace of late is evidence that the it has made a sincere effort to address broadcaster concerns. That said, we are glad that MSTV and NAB will be on the beat protecting broadcaster interests going forward.