NAB tries to put brakes on “white space” express

Mon, 10/20/2008 - 8:40am
Brian Santo

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is scrambling to impede FCC Chairman Kevin Martin from fast-tracking the approval of a white space transmission technology which, the NAB says, the FCC’s own data conclusively demonstrates is disruptive to broadcast television.

Kevin Martin
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin

The FCC conducted tests of white space technology over the summer, and on Wednesday the Commission’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) published a report that Martin said justifies proceeding toward approval of the technology.

The NAB is accusing the FCC of misinterpreting its own data. The organization is further alarmed that although the report includes data it says conclusively demonstrates that “unlicensed devices relying solely on spectrum sensing threaten the viability of clear TV reception,” Martin seems to be ramrodding the technology through the approval process.

The FCC customarily sets aside a period for comment on its technology reports, but apparently not for this one. So the NAB has filed an Emergency Request with the FCC, urging the agency to follow its own standard practice and seek comment on the technical report.

"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 NAB says. "Failure to provide adequate opportunity for public comment on information so central to the outcome of this proceeding raises serious questions about compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act."

The NAB has lined up 70 Congressmen ready to back its cause. The list includes nine of the more prominent senators, including Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), in recent Congressional testimony, is on record expressing its concerns about white space interference with cable transmission.

Other interests expressing concern about the technology include sports leagues, Broadway theater groups, wireless microphone manufacturers and religious groups.

Broadcast television stations in the same market are spaced across the dial, with buffers of unused spectrum – white space – in between to avoid interference with each other.

Companies such as Dell, Google, Intel and Microsoft propose building communications products that can sense where the white space is, and use it for data services. The scheme has been championed by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (story here).

It was previously announced, by microphone manufacturer Shure, that during the testing, the technology was demonstrated to interfere with wireless microphones. Martin responded by issuing a ruling that wireless microphones would no longer be able to use that spectrum.

The NAB pointed to the “stark contrast” between the FCC report’s Executive Summary's upbeat endorsement of unlicensed devices that preceded a more pessimistic 149-page report.

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said: “Any reasonable analysis of the OET report would conclude that unlicensed devices that rely solely on spectrum sensing threaten the viability of clear television reception. Basing public policy on an imprecise Cliffs Notes version of a 149-page report raises troubling questions."

The report includes mention of a Microsoft prototype sample device malfunctioning, wildly variable results from different test equipment, and in some instances detection of “significant” interference.

The mention of the Microsoft device failure is apparently a reference to a prior test conducted in 2007.

More Broadband Direct:

• NAB tries to put brakes on "white space" express

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