TV "White Space" Devices Go Nationwide

New action follows December roll-out to eastern states.

TV “white space” devices, which operate on an unlicensed basis in locally vacant TV spectrum, are now authorized nationwide. This is pretty fast, by Government standards; just last December the FCC okayed the first large-scale roll-out to seven eastern states plus Washington, D.C. The class of approved coordinators for the database these devices rely on to find open channels is growing much more slowly. Also growing slowly is the number of FCC-approved devices that can use the service; we count just five so far.

FCC Approves "White Space" Devices in Eastern U.S.

New systems must protect many other services from interference.

Fully four years after adopting rules for unlicensed TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, the FCC has authorized roll-out beyond the two small test areas previously approved. Touted by advocates as “Wi-Fi on steroids,” TVBDs can now boot up in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina.

The FCC expects to extend authorization nationwide by mid-January.

TVBDs are required to avoid causing interference to multiple services: broadcast TV; fixed broadcast auxiliary service links; receive sites for TV translators, low power TVs, Class A TVs, and multichannel video programming distributors; public safety and private land mobile; offshore radio telephone; radio astronomy; and “low power auxiliary service,” which includes licensed (and some unlicensed) wireless microphones. 

The complexity of the TVBD rules results from the need to ensure that all of these services can operate unharmed. In many metropolitan areas having multiple TV channels and heavy use of wireless microphones, vacant spectrum for TVBDs is already scarce. The FCC’s ongoing plans to consolidate TV broadcasters onto fewer channels, so as to free up more spectrum for wireless use, will only make things worse.

Simultaneously with the spread of TVBDs into the Middle Atlantic states, the FCC expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from those same states out to the rest of the country, keeping the wireless mic registrations a step ahead of the TVBD roll-out.

FCC Launches Nationwide Registration of Wireless Microphones

Registration is needed to protect qualifying events from interference caused by TV Band Devices

The FCC has expanded its registration program for wireless microphones from the Middle Atlantic states to the rest of the country.   Registration helps to protect qualifying wireless microphones that operate in vacant TV channels from interference caused by TV Band Devices (TVBDs), also called “white space” systems, that likewise use vacant TV slots.

When the FCC established rules for TVBDs, it required those devices to avoid interfering not only with TV stations, but also with several other categories of equipment operating on TV frequencies. The most populous of those, by far, are the wireless microphones that are ubiquitous in TV, stage, and film production.

Most wireless microphones used in TV and films are licensed by the FCC.  Most others – including those used in stage shows, churches, and the FCC meeting room – operated illegally until January 2010, when the FCC authorized low-power models on an unlicensed basis by waiver. (As it considers whether to make those rules permanent, the FCC recently sought to update the record on wireless microphone issues generally.)

Two TV channels in every market are closed to TVBDs, so as to leave room for wireless microphones. Licensed wireless microphones needing additional channels are entitled to interference protection from TVBDs. So are unlicensed microphones on other channels, but only if used for major sporting events, live theatrical productions and shows, and similar occasions that require more microphones than the set-aside channels can accommodate.

To implement protection, qualified events must register in the database that controls which frequencies TVBDs can use at each location. The FCC has authorized the operation of TVBDs in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, Virginia, and North Carolina, and expects nationwide authorization by mid-January. Those who distribute or use wireless microphones should make sure any needed registrations are in place before TVBDs are deployed in their vicinity.

The details of the registration process are available here. The conditions and procedures are complex; and the FCC cautions that most uses of unlicensed wireless microphone do not qualify for registration. We recommend planning ahead.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended Again

Not surprisingly, the FCC has extended the comment deadlines in the wireless microphone proceeding again. In that proceeding, of course, the Commission is looking into how best to accommodate wireless mics in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. We reported on the last extension just a couple of weeks ago. The goal of that first extension was to sync up the comment deadlines in the wireless mic proceeding with those in the Incentive Auction proceeding, since the latter is likely to have a significant impact on the former. 

But since then the Commission extended the comment periods in the Incentive Auction docket. To maintain the synchronicity between those deadlines and the wireless mic deadlines, the Commission has, on its own motion, moved the wireless mic deadlines as well. Comments are now due by January 25, 2013, and replies by March 12, 2013.

Update: Wireless Mic Comment Deadlines Extended

The comment deadlines have been extended in the FCC’s inquiry about how best to accommodate wireless microphones in the face of the dwindling amount of vacant television spectrum space on which those mics have historically been allowed to operate. The original comment deadline was the day before Thanksgiving, but that date has now been pushed back 30 days.  The extension was granted at the request of a number of parties who want to coordinate (a) their comments in the wireless mic proceeding with (b) their comments in the separate Incentive Auctions proceeding, which will have an impact on (among other things) accommodation of wireless mics in the repacked spectrum contemplated by the Incentive Auctions proposals.  Comments are now due by December 21, 2012, and replies by February 19, 2013 (the same deadlines as in the Incentive Auction proceeding).

Effective Dates Set For Wireless Mic Clear-Out Process

The FCC has received approval from the Office of Management and Budget to implement its new rules clearing wireless microphones out of TV Channels 52-69 (the 700 MHz band). We reported on the adoption of those rules last month. OMB approval affects some of the deadlines in the clearing-out process. Those deadlines are now as follows:

  • At any time on or after February 17, 2010, Public Safety and commercial licensees who are ready to occupy 700 MHz band channels may give notice to wireless microphone users to clear out.  (See Section 74.802(e)(2))
  • Effective February 28, 2010, anyone who sells or leases wireless microphones (or offers them for sale or lease) must provide a “Consumer Alert” on their websites, in their product catalogs, and on microphone packaging, using FCC-specified wording.  (See Sections 15.216 and 74.851(i)).
  • Effective June 15, 2010, any wireless microphone that operates above 698 MHz must be for export only and labeled that it may not be operated in the United States. (See Section 74.851(h)).

The June 12, 2010, deadline by which all wireless microphone users must stop operating on Channels 52-69 (698-806 MHz), remains unchanged.