NAB Deputy General Counsel Patrick McFadden discusses Microsoft’s promises to deploy TV white space devices even as Microsoft seeks to overturn recently adopted FCC rules allowing broadcasters to further the deployment of NextGen TV services and improve service to television viewers.
The National Association of Broadcasters took the gloves off in a recent meeting with FCC engineering staffers over TV white spaces — the use of broadcast spectrum for unlicensed uses like wireless broadband — calling it a failing experiment.
Broadcasters are telling the FCC that using a popular method of determining signal reach could undo the good work the commission has done to help them better serve the public. It is the latest volley in the battle between broadcasters and computer companies — specifically Microsoft — over opening up the TV band for more unlicensed (so-called TV white spaces, or TVWS) broadband use.
Broadcasters have scored a victory in the debate with Microsoft over how the FCC should allow for more unlicensed broadband in the so-called white spaces between TV channels.
Broadcasters are telling the FCC it should confine its white spaces item to the narrow changes agreed to by the National Association of Broadcasters and Microsoft and not range into other, murkier areas where Loch Ness monsters and Sasquatches lurk to muck up the compromise. That came in reply comments to the regulator’s proposal to make those changes. Other commenters wanted it to make some more adjustments.
The FCC’s decision today to expand the use of so-called “white spaces” TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband drew quite a crowd Friday after a unanimous vote to allow for higher power and taller towers to extend the reach of unlicensed uses.
The long-simmering proposal to use broadcast “white spaces” for rural broadband delivery using TV channels 2 through 35 will be on the FCC’s next meeting agenda, opening a new way to supply a “critical role in providing broadband services to rural and underserved areas,” according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Microsoft is telling the FCC that wireless internet providers have been able to boost their throughput tenfold using the TV white spaces Microsoft wants more of, and said the FCC should act on its proposal seeking tweaks to the current white spaces regime.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai suggested this week that the FCC is awaiting consensus among broadcasters and Microsoft before moving ahead with a proposal on freeing up the “white spaces” between and around post-incentive auction repacked TV channels for wireless broadband. That came in an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee, where he said he hoped to bring the new white spaces regime to reality soon.
Broadcasters have told the FCC not to pay attention to the tech companies seeking to harpoon the great white (spaces) whale by preventing broadcasters from using vacant channels to help in the transition to next-gen ATSC 3.0 TV transmissions. That came in a call this week between NAB execs and officials at the FCC’s Media Bureau and Incentive Auction Task Force.
The FCC has sent the signal that allowing the so-called white spaces between TV channels to be used for fixed and mobile wireless devices is ready for primetime. That came in a report and order adopted Wednesday. The FCC also resolved a number of petitions to reconsider the TV White Spaces Order that initially opened up the spectrum to broadband.
A pair of Republican senators have asked the FCC to resolve interference issues with TV white spaces (TVWS) use by unlicensed devices, come up with final guidance, and allow for the expansion of TVWS use. They say the technology is key to closing the rural broadband divide because it is an affordable connectivity answer for rural and tribal communities.
The National Association of Broadcasters says more work needs to be done on the FCC’s system for identifying where incumbent TV station spectrum users and fixed unlicensed white spaces devices are before using it to allow unlicensed wireless (broadband) use in those so-called “white spaces” between channels.
Microsoft is partnering with organizations across the country to form Connect Americans Now (CAN), a coalition that will pressure policymaker to help bring broadband internet access to rural America using unoccupied TV channels, or white spaces.
Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate: Microsoft’s white spaces proposal to the FCC means that “a television station or translator will likely be left without a landing slot on the TV dial and forced off the air forever in many markets throughout the country. As someone who has devoted his career to emergency management, I am concerned about any proposal that forces Americans to lose access to local television stations. Local TV is one of the most reliable and trusted ways for the public to get updates during life threatening emergencies.”
The association tells the FCC that “Microsoft is asking the commission to grant it spectrum for free, with no buildout requirements or service requirements of any kind — substantially better terms than winning auction bidders received.”
Microsoft has been pushing to use vacant TV channels for broadband communications for 10 years with nothing to show for it. And its latest plan for a rural service is not going anywhere either. “Even when you account for the interference problems. Even when you account for the real-time technological requirements. Even when you consider that it costs $1,000 to connect people to the network. The issue is that there is a very low concentration of people in the only areas that need this technology. And those people are not willing to pay much to get fast internet access.”
NAB chief spokesman Dennis Wharton calls Microsoft’s push to permit broadband traffic on vacant TV channels the “height of arrogance” in light of the software giant’s refusal to buy spectrum during the FCC incentive auction.
At a Washington press conference today, Microsoft President Brad Smith will announce a plan to use unused TV channels — so-called white spaces — to bring broadband service to two million rural Americans over the next two years. Microsoft’s white spaces initiatives have already generated opposition from broadcasters.
NAB called out Microsoft today for continuing to advocate for an unused TV channel to be reserved nationwide for unlicensed TV-band white space device use. Microsoft has a decade-long history of underdelivering on its vision for the channels, NAB said in an ex parte letter today to the FCC.
NAB Associate General Counsel Patrick McFadden: “Microsoft is currently reminding [film] fans why some sequels should never be made. The latest entry in the tech giant’s Vacant Channel franchise is yet another heist movie based on a con game that’s too clever by half. According to Microsoft, it is urgent that the FCC reserve a vacant UHF white space channel in every market nationwide following the post-auction repack of broadcast television stations, and Microsoft maintains this reservation can be accomplished without causing harm to television stations. That’s nonsense on its face.”
Companies are granted an FCC waiver to deploy TV white space gear on farm equipment, farmhouses.
Everybody interested in 600 MHz — whether broadcasters sweating the repacking process, carriers planning to bid on new spectrum, or one of the many other current spectrum users wondering what the future will look like — share a common concern: How will the FCC ensure that the millions of unlicensed wireless devices expected to operate in the band won’t cause havoc? Now, the FCC is proposing a number of measures aimed at reducing the likelihood of any problems.
Contrary to assurances the FCC gave Congress and the broadcast industry since first proposing the TV spectrum auction and repack, wireless mic advocates say, the agency has told parties lobbying to protect wireless mic spectrum that it will likely conduct a future auction to recover more TV spectrum.
The shortage of frequencies necessary for live production that looks to be coming after the spectrum repack has TV engineers very worried, says Louis Libin of Broad Comm, a broadcast spectrum consultancy, and executive director of the Advanced Television Broadcasting Alliance. He says stopgap measures, such as temporarily migrating to other bands, modifying production techniques and developing new wireless technologies, can help, but the real solution will come from an FCC that recognizes the value of over-the-air TV broadcasting.
The FCC plan, part of a general reorganization of the TV band that would follow the planned incentive auction next year, will harm broadcasting and its viewers, the NAB said in comments filed with the commission today.
The FCC’s database designed to keep unlicensed Wi-Fi devices from knocking broadcast TV signals off the air has a big flaw: it’s self-reported, hence some bogus entries. The flaws so far are fairly minor — particularly since there are only about 600 or so actual devices in use right now — but if it isn’t fixed, the system could become unworkable down the road when more people try to make use of the unlicensed airwaves.
The National Association of Broadcasters said on Thursday it was dropping its court challenge of rules that allow the unlicensed use of empty airwaves between existing broadcast channels.
The commission issues a public notice to start operation of Spectrum Bridge’s TV White Spaces database system and authorization of a tv white spaces device.
Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell touted the benefits of unlicensed spectrum but said he opposes setting aside a further swath of TV airwaves for unlicensed use.