Broadcasters Call for Delay in White Space Review

Following a technical report that gave a green light to opening the unused television spectrum to a new class of wireless devices, TV broadcasters are now challenging the Federal Communication Commission’s “white spaces” timetable on procedural grounds.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), along with the four major television networks and two other industry associations, filed an emergency request (available here in PDF format) with the FCC appealing for a 70-day period in which the public could submit comments in response to the report.

Last week, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) released a report of more than 400 pages documenting its testing of prototype devices that would run on the white-space spectrum, which serves as a buffer zone between TV channels. Once television signals transition from analog to digital next February, that spectrum could be used to create new wireless networks, but the NAB has argued that the devices could still interfere with TV broadcasts and should therefore not be permitted.

That report concluded that the test devices demonstrated “proof of concept” that the interference issues could be overcome, but the NAB quickly attacked what it called contradictions in the report.

With its latest filing, the broadcasters are hoping to delay the FCC’s vote on whether to adopt an order — originally circulated earlier this year by Chairman Kevin Martin — authorizing the use of TV white-spaces devices (WSD). The vote is currently scheduled for Nov. 4.

“If the commission adopts rules hastily based on a flawed reading of the OET test results, WSDs will be let into the broadcast band without the protections that are necessary to prevent widespread interference to television and cable reception,” the groups wrote in their filing. “Yet the commission has not allowed members of the public to review and comment meaningfully on the results of the OET tests. Millions of viewers of digital television and cable services have a stake in the results of this proceeding.”

They claim that the FCC is acting inconsistently with an established policy of providing a window for public comment following the release of a lengthy, highly technical report.

“Simply put, until two days ago, it has been the commission’s practice to adopt rules based on complex data only after allowing the public an opportunity to comment on that data,” the groups said Friday.

They are calling for an initial comment period of 45 days following the release of the notice and a 25-day reply period.

FCC spokesman Robert Kenny seemed less than enthusiastic about further delaying the vote.

“We just received their request and are reviewing it,” he told “It is, however, important to note that this proceeding has been open for several years and recently included multiple rounds of testing in the lab and field, which were open to the public and provided all interested parties with ample opportunities to comment and provide input.”

Kenny added that the report proved that technologies such as spectrum-sensing and geolocation will be able to prevent the devices from causing interference by accidentally wandering into a sliver of spectrum occupied by a television broadcast.

“The opportunity is there to get these innovative new devices in the hands of consumers sooner rather than later,” he said.

Aside from Martin, it remains unclear how the other four commissioners will vote on the issue.

White-space spectrum has become a cause célèbre for many high-profile technology companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Motorola and Philips, which hail it as a way to deliver broadband Internet access to underserved or impoverished regions and improve public safety communications, among a long list of other lofty goals.

Given the term “Wi-Fi on steroids” by Google co-founder Larry Page, white-space spectrum has strong propagation qualities that can travel long distances and penetrate through thick walls, which boosters argue make it ideal for rural areas or for reaching older buildings that are resistant to wiring.

In a filing with the commission today, ten groups called on the FCC to ignore the NAB’s request for a comment period and proceed with the draft order.

“The engineers and technologists at the FCC now know that white spaces technology works — and we urge to ignore the desperate stall tactics of opposition groups and put this technology to work for rural and underserved America as soon as possible,” Wally Bowen, executive director of the non-profit ISP Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), said in a statement. “This isn’t rocket science, in fact to the opposition this largely isn’t a matter of science at all. It is a turf battle and enough is enough.”

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