White Spaces FCC Approves First TV Bands Device and First Database

The first TV Bands Device (a fixed device designed to provide local wireless broadband) and the first TV Bands Device Database (operated by Spectrum Bridge) have been approved by the FCC, and will become operational on January 26, 2012. Initial availability will be limited to the city of Wilmington, North Carolina and New Hanover County, North Carolina, and will expand nationwide pending completion of the FCC’s procedure for processing database registration requests from unlicensed wireless microphone users. 

Wireless microphones, personal monitors, and production intercoms are permitted to operate on any TV channel (except 37) that is not assigned to a TV station or two-way radio licensee at a particular location. The FCC has designated at least two TV channels in each market that are reserved or exclusively available for wireless microphone use, and are off-limits to TV Band Devices. Reserved channel information for a particular location can be obtained using Spectrum Bridge’s Show My White Space online tool, at http://whitespaces.spectrumbridge.com/whitespaces/home.aspx. (At the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Auditorium in Wilmington, for example, channels 10, 11, 13, 19, 36, and 38 are reserved for wireless microphone use.)

Since 3-15 wireless microphones (depending on model) can operate in one 6 MHz TV channel, the reserved TV channels will accommodate the needs of most wireless users. Users of larger numbers of wireless systems may register in the TV Bands Devices Database to protect additional TV channels during a specific event. Unlicensed wireless microphone users must request database protection from the FCC, while licensed users may register in the database directly.

Until the FCC registration system is operational, unlicensed users must submit registration requests directly to the FCC Office of Engineering Technology at TVWSinfo@fcc.gov. The “subject” line in the messages for such requests must begin with the phrase: “[Wireless Microphone Registration],” followed by the entity’s full name. For example: [Wireless Microphone Registration] Widget Corporation. In addition to contact information, requests must include the following information:

  1. Show that at least 6 wireless microphones, personal monitors, or production intercom systems will be operating in each of the TV channels that are reserved or exclusively available for wireless microphone use at that location.
  2. State which additional TV channels must be protected to accommodate the additional wireless systems that will be used at the event.

Once the FCC approves the registration, it will direct Spectrum Bridge to provide the user with a registration number so that they can enter the event details in the database.

The FCC is under intense pressure to reallocate even more spectrum for broadband – preferably in a single large block instead of a patchwork of TV channel “white spaces” that vary from place to place. The major wireless carriers have been aggressively promoting the “repack and auction” plan that appeared in the National Broadband Plan published in 2010: have TV stations change or share channels so that they can fit into an even smaller piece of spectrum, allowing the FCC to auction the remainder to wireless carriers. Some of the auction proceeds would be shared with the TV stations that change channels, and the remainder (estimated at approximately $25 billion) would be deposited in the U.S. Treasury.

The FCC cannot conduct such an “incentive auction” without Congressional approval, however. The authorization has been included in several House and Senate bills, but none have been passed so far. Why the holdup? Congress has told the FCC that they will not grant permission to conduct the auctions until the FCC publishes an estimate of how many TV stations would need to change channels, how many would need to share a channel, and how many would likely go off the air entirely under various auction scenarios. The FCC has told Congress that it will not reveal this until Congress grants permission to conduct the auctions, resulting in a stalemate.

Congress may be uneasy about the auction plan because it would put this valuable spectrum under the control of just a few large companies that can afford to buy it. That means that it would support only the devices and services that those companies decide to market. The tech industry at large (including the Wi-Fi Alliance, Google, and Microsoft) opposes the auction plan, and wants the FCC to maintain unlicensed access to the TV band white spaces. Proponents believe that free and open access would stimulate innovation, investment, and job creation, as companies of all sizes develop new products and services – similar to what followed the allocation of the 2.4 GHz band for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters remains vigilant and vocal in its position that it has already given up over 100 MHz of spectrum during the 700 MHz band reallocation, and that the search for dedicated broadband spectrum should be focused on other bands.