Update: Wireless Microphone Coordination Provision of Incentive Auction Order Now In Effect

As we all know, last June the Commission adopted its massive Report and Order setting out the rules for implementation of the spectrum incentive auction. The auction, of course, is one element of a major reorganization of the spectrum in which (among other things) television stations will be “repacked” into a narrower portion of the spectrum. The repacking affects more than just TV licensees. Wireless microphones and other licensed low power auxiliary stations (LPASs) are allowed to operate on unused TV channels on a secondary, non-exclusive basis, so reduction in TV channels reduces LPAS opportunities as well -- a special problem for wireless microphone users in congested areas.

Deep in the fine print of the magnum opus, the FCC – concerned about the impact that the re-pack will likely have on LPASs, and wireless microphones in particular – sought to ensure that LPAS licensees would have access to as many TV channels as possible post-repack.

One way to achieve that was to permit LPAS operation co-channel with TV stations at distances less than those specified in Section 74.802(a) of the Commission’s rules, provided such use was coordinated in advance. To that end, Section 74.802(b) was revised to read: 

Low power auxiliary stations may operate closer to co-channel TV broadcast stations than the distances specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section provided that their operations are coordinated with TV broadcast stations that could be affected by the low power auxiliary station operation. Coordination must be completed prior to operation of the low power auxiliary station.

While portions of the incentive auction Report and Order became effective last October, the revised Section 74.802(b) did not because it had to be run through the Paperwork Reduction Act drill at the Office of Management and Budget. According to a notice published in the Federal Register. that process has been completed, OMB has given its thumbs up, and the revised Section 74.802(b) is effective as of April 1, 2015.

Update: Two Wireless Mic Proceedings, One Set of Comment Deadline Extensions

A couple of months ago we reported on two proceedings, initiated simultaneously, looking into possible solutions to the problems that the upcoming repack of the spectrum will cause to wireless microphone users and manufacturers as well as various other users of the TV spectrum. While technically separate and distinct dockets, the two proceedings have obviously been linked from Day One. And now the FCC has announced, in a single consolidated order, that the comment deadlines for both proceedings have been extended. As a result, comments in either or both of the dockets may be filed by February 4, 2015; reply comments will be due by February 25. Use Proceeding Numbers 14-166 and 12-268 for the comments in the proceeding dealing primarily with wireless mics; use Proceeding Number 14-165 for the proceeding dealing more generally with unlicensed uses.

Update: Comment Deadlines Set in Two Wireless Mic Proceedings

Last month we reported on a couple of Notices of Proposed Rulemaking looking for possible solutions to the problems that the upcoming repack of the spectrum will cause to wireless microphone users and manufacturers in particular as well as other unlicensed users of the TV spectrum (who may include some wireless mic folks as well as white space device users). Both of those NPRMs have now been published in the Federal Register – here (for the wireless mic item) and here (for the more general item on unlicensed uses). Thanks to that development, we now know the deadlines for comments and reply comments in the two proceedings. For both, the comment deadline is January 5, 2015; replies are due by January 26. Comments can be filed through the FCC's online ECFS filing system. Use Proceeding Numbers. 14-166 and 12-268 for the comments in the proceeding dealing primarily with wireless mics; use Proceeding Number 14-165 for the proceeding dealing more generally with unlicensed uses.

FCC Rethinks Wireless Microphones

The steady shrinkage of the TV bands is forcing the FCC to look elsewhere for wireless microphone spectrum.

Having inadvertently threatened a key industry with extinction, the FCC is now trying to reactivate it.

We see wireless microphones used on TV stages, live concerts, and in Broadway and Las Vegas shows. TV and film studios use technically similar equipment. So do backstage personnel for intercom and cueing in all of the above productions. Other uses for wireless microphones include public meetings, political events, school and college classrooms, and live music in bars, garage-band garages, and just about everywhere else.

For decades, wireless microphones have operated successfully in locally vacant TV channels. Three recent FCC developments, though, are making those channels scarce. First, the FCC authorized unlicensed TV White Space (TVWS) operation to provide Wi-Fi-type service in many of the same vacant channels. Second, the transition to digital TV eliminated 18 channels from TV use – and also took them away from TVWS and wireless microphones, which greatly increased pressure on the channels that remain. Third, the upcoming “incentive auction” will reallocate still more TV channels to wireless broadband, leaving insufficient spectrum for wireless microphones.

A thick Notice of Proposed Rulemaking takes a long-term view of the problem.

First, it recognizes the importance of wireless microphones in entertainment and in civic and even religious life. Second, it asks for extensive and detailed information on how wireless microphones work and what spectrum they use today. Third, the NPRM goes through a catalog of possible alternative frequencies to the TV bands, asking about the suitability of each for wireless microphones and whether rule changes would help to improve that suitability while still protecting other users. Many of these alternative bands would require the development of technologies not currently used by wireless microphones.

The equipment used for production microphones and performers’ ear monitors has particularly demanding requirements: extremely high audio fidelity with very low latency (throughput delay). Because these requirements are incompatible with significant data compression, these particular devices need relatively high radio bandwidth. Many of the alternative bands suggested by the FCC are too narrow for these critical applications, but may be suitable for other production needs.

Another Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released the same day, proposes shorter-term solutions for unlicensed wireless microphones.

By order, back in 2010, the FCC established a temporary waiver that has allowed wireless microphones to operate in the TV bands on an unlicensed basis at 50 milliwatts of power (as compared to the 250 milliwatts permitted to licensed microphones). Unlike licensed operation, which is limited to certain categories of users, unlicensed use is open to anyone. The FCC is now proposing to codify this waiver into the rules, which would give the industry a greater degree of certainty than it has now. The proposal includes a few variations from the waiver: adjustments to the required separation from active TV stations; tighter limits on out-of-band emissions; and a somewhat more restrictive definition of “wireless microphone.”

After the incentive auction, there will be 3 MHz guard bands around channel 37 (which is used for radio astronomy and medical telemetry), a guard band of as-yet-unknown size between the surviving TV frequencies and the new wireless broadband allocation, and an 11 MHz “duplex gap” between the downlink and uplink segments of the broadband spectrum. The NPRM proposes to allow unlicensed wireless microphones to operate in some of each of these, but at only 20 milliwatts: in 2 MHz of each channel 37 guard band, in all but 1 MHz of the TV/broadband guard band, and in 6 MHz of the duplex gap, shared with TVWS devices. (Another 4 MHz of the duplex gap is set aside for licensed wireless microphones.)

But there is a complication. The Spectrum Act – the statute that authorized the incentive auction – says: “Unlicensed use shall rely on a database or subsequent methodology as determined by the Commission.” TVWS devices “rely on a database” without question: each individual device must communicate with a database that identifies safe operating channels at that particular location and time, or must communicate with another device that does. Wireless microphones do not have this capability, and have never needed it; users and their coordinators pick channels manually, according to local conditions, and over the years have caused essentially zero interference to other users.

The FCC is particularly concerned about the transition period following the auction, when future guard band frequencies, those that will later be open to wireless microphones, are still functioning as TV channels that wireless microphones must not use. Making matters worse, that transition will proceed unevenly around the country. Frequencies that have completed the shift to guard-band status in some places may still be in use for TV broadcasting in other places, making it more difficult for wireless microphone users to keep track. One option is to require that unlicensed wireless microphones check in with the TVWS database before transmitting at a given location. Providing the capability for automatic checking, however, would add to the products' complexity and cost. The FCC asks whether it would satisfy the statute for the user to manually check a database using a laptop or a smartphone.

Also for the transition period, the FCC has set minimum separation distances between wireless microphones and operating regions of the incoming wireless broadband providers. The same question arises on how wireless microphone users will determine whether operation is allowable at a particular time and place.

Comments are replies for each NPRM will be due 45 and 65 days, respectively, after it appears in the Federal Register. We will let you know.

Wireless Microphone Users Face Worsening Spectrum Shortage

The upcoming incentive auction process will further squeeze an industry already short of needed capacity.

Wireless microphone users are fighting for spectrum. Here is why – and what the FCC is doing about it.

Anyone who watches TV or attends live shows knows about wireless microphones: those black or silver things the performer holds, plus a lot more equipment backstage. Until recently, few people gave these devices much thought – not even the FCC. Not until the 2009 digital TV transition that transferred 108 MHz of TV spectrum to other uses.

Most wireless microphones operate in vacant TV channels. The old analog TV rules required certain TV stations to be spaced far apart – not just those on the same or adjacent channels, but also some that operated many channels apart. That left plenty of room for microphones. But digital TV stations can safely be squeezed more closely together. That made possible the 2009 TV spectrum repacking, which cut the numbers of empty channels and left microphone users scrambling for spectrum, especially in microphone-dense areas like the Broadway theater district, while manufacturers struggled to squeeze more microphones into less spectrum.

The FCC added a complication by allowing unlicensed “TV white space” (TVWS) data devices into most of the same vacant TV channels that wireless microphones use. Until the digital repacking there would have been room for both, but the subsequent shortage set off acrimonious disputes at the FCC.

There was another complication. Back then many wireless microphones operated illegally. FCC rules required a license, but limited license eligibility to certain narrow classes of users: broadcast stations and networks, TV and film producers, cable companies, and a very few others. Lots of other people used wireless microphones anyway, including Broadway theaters, outdoor concerts, churches, high-school performers, and – famously – the FCC’s own meeting room.

Rather than enforce against the violators, the FCC instead took steps to make most of the violations go away. A 2010 order granted a blanket waiver allowing unlicensed use of wireless microphones up to 50 milliwatts – plenty for most churches and high-school auditoriums (and the FCC meeting room). Later in 2010, the FCC identified two vacant TV channels in each market for wireless microphone use, closed these to TVWS devices, and clarified how both licensed and unlicensed microphones users could temporarily lock out TVWS devices from other channels, if needed, to protect certain performances.

An uneasy truce prevailed – until the FCC proposed a second TV spectrum repacking.

This one comes about because the same 6 MHz TV channel that used to carry one analog program can now carry multiple digital programs simultaneously. The FCC plans an “incentive auction” that will invite broadcasters to accept cash for sharing a TV channel or, if they prefer, for leaving the business altogether. Spectrum thus freed up will be auctioned for wireless broadband use, with some of the proceeds earmarked to pay off cooperating broadcasters. The result will be still fewer vacant channels for wireless microphones and TVWS.

The FCC’s recent incentive auction order further divides up the ever-smaller pie:

  • The two channels now reserved for wireless microphones will become one, shared between wireless microphones and TVWS devices.
  • The new wireless broadband spectrum will include a “duplex gap” 11 MHz wide between base and mobile frequencies. The FCC will set aside 6 MHz of this for TVWS and 4 MHz for licensed wireless microphones, primarily for covering breaking news events.
  • Unlicensed wireless microphones may be permitted to use a guard band between 7 to 11 MHz wide that will separate TV from wireless operations, and possibly also channel 37 and additional guard bands around channel 37, at some locations. (Channel 37, used by radio astronomy at a limited number of sites and for medical telemetry, has never carried TV programming.) Rules for this operation have not yet been adopted.
  • Wireless microphones will be allowed to operate in closer geographic proximity to a TV station using the same channel, so long as they stay at least 4 km from the station’s predicted service contour – or even closer, if they coordinate with the TV station.
  • The FCC has promised to improve the performance of the TVWS database, possibly allowing wireless microphone users to register events for protection on short notice. Details will follow in a later proceeding.

In a separate order, the FCC expanded licensing eligibility for wireless microphones, now to include venues and professional sound companies that routinely use 50 or more wireless microphones. A production company that provides its own audio services would qualify. The FCC’s examples include indoor and outdoor seated facilities such as auditoriums, amphitheaters, arenas, stadiums, theaters, and houses of worship, as well as venues without fixed seating such as convention centers, conference locations, amusement parks, fairgrounds, entertainment complexes, athletic facilities, educational centers, and government locations. The venue does not have to own or operate the wireless microphones itself to qualify, but must routinely host large-scale productions that require 50 or more of these devices. A venue that includes multiple stages can count microphones by combining all stages at the same location.

Large productions typically use wireless microphone gear the audience does not see, including in-ear monitors for performers, “interruptible fold-back” for communicating with performers on air or on stage, and backstage intercoms – the iconic production person wearing a headset. All of these count toward the required minimum of 50. The FCC order also continues in force the waiver that allows unlicensed microphones to operate at 50 milliwatts or less, so that venues failing to make the minimum of 50 microphones still have the option of unlicensed use.

A later proceeding, not yet begun, will fill in a lot of the details. But even now, it is clear that users will have to replace equipment and adjust operations to work in a lot less spectrum than they had just a few years ago.

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).

Update: Comment Dates Set in Wireless Mic Inquiry

 We recently reported on 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 Commission’s request for comments has now made it into the Federal Register, which as we all know by now establishes the relevant filing deadlines. Comments in response to the FCC’s request are due by November 21, 2012, and reply comments are due by December 12, 2012.

Wireless Mic Users - Listen Up!

The FCC wants help in squeezing more wireless microphones into ever-shrinking spectrum.

Traditional wireless microphones – the kind you see on TV, big stage shows, and in lecture halls and churches – operate on locally vacant TV channels. But those channels are becoming scarce. The FCC has asked for comment on how to accommodate these microphones in the future.

In the old days of analog TV, there were a lot of TV channels, and the shortcomings of analog receivers meant a lot of those channels in each market could not be used for TV. That left plenty of room for wireless microphones. The picture began to change in 2009, when the last full-power analog stations went off the air. Because digital TV stations can be packed more tightly than analog stations, the FCC was able to free up 18 channels for other uses, which left fewer empty channels for wireless microphones. Then, a year ago, the FCC approved the first operation of “white space” devices that provide Wi-Fi-like service in some of the remaining vacant TV channels. The FCC reserved two channels in every market for wireless microphones, and provided for additional channels where needed in a complicated set of regulations; but there is no getting around the fact that a lot more devices will be trying to operate in a lot less spectrum. Then, last month, the FCC proposed “incentive auctions” designed to encourage broadcasters to give up still more channels.

Despite the squeeze on spectrum for wireless microphones, we can’t do without them – at least so long as we want good audio in our movies, TV, and stage shows. Even the FCC has implicitly acknowledged these devices are indispensable. For decades, it issued licenses for TV-band wireless microphones to just a few categories: broadcasters and broadcast networks, cable TV operators, and movie and TV producers. That’s all. Missing from the list are Broadway shows, concert venues, college lecture halls, and your local house of worship. Operation in all such facilities was commonplace, but illegal. Of course the FCC knew about those uses – it even had a wireless microphone in its own meeting room. But even the illegal operations were well managed, causing no interference to TV stations, so the FCC wisely left things alone.

The advent of white space devices, though, brought the need for better control over who uses microphones, and where. Bringing regulation into line with reality, the FCC considered broadening the list of eligible licensees. It also took the unusual step of proposing to legalize previously illegal operation by allowing lower-power wireless microphones to operate as unlicensed devices, under the same basic rules as Wi-Fi and cordless telephones. The power limit would be lower than for licensed wireless microphones, but higher than for most other unlicensed devices, and should suffice for good sound in most halls and churches. That proposed relaxation has not yet been adopted.

Now the FCC is hoping technological advances will solve the spectrum problem. After all, digital TV stations can fit four channels into one analog TV channel; digital cell phones carry twenty times the traffic in the same spectrum as the old analog cell phones. Why shouldn’t digital wireless microphones show similar improvement? 

But there is a catch. The increased spectrum efficiency in digital TV and digital cell phones comes not from digitizing the signal, but from compressing the signal once it is digitized. And compression adds delay. (To hear the delay, call your cell phone from your wireline phone, put one to each ear, and talk.) A performer using a wireless microphone can tolerate delay of only a few thousandths of a second, which limits the possible compression.

Still, digitizing can help. Analog microphones on the same TV channel have to be spaced well apart, allowing only about six to eight per channel, or else they interact to create unwanted signals. Digital microphones each take up about as much spectrum, but they can be squeezed closer together, so a TV channel can accommodate a dozen or so.

Before it moves further on these matters, the FCC wants to hear from wireless microphone manufacturers, installers, and users. The detailed request for information is here. Comments and reply comments will be due 20 days and 51 days after publication in the Federal Register. (Check back here with www.CommLawBlog.com for updates.) Comments and reply comments on the proposed incentive auction rules, including rules applicable to wireless microphones, are due on December 21 and February 19, respectively.

In the meantime, the FCC has released a public notice on how wireless microphone users can register for protection from white space devices in certain east coast states. The details, which are complex, can be found here.

White Spaces Update: OMB Signs Off on Information Collections

One small step for white spaces technology . . .

The long-running, slow-paced white spaces proceeding has quietly moved ahead with OMB approval of the “information collection” requirements of Sections 15.713, 15.714, 15.715 and 15.717. Notice of that approval has just been published in the Federal Register. That means that the FCC may implement those requirements, effective now.

But don’t run down to your local Radio Shack looking for miracle white spaces devices just yet. Before the Commission can start to unleash the power of the white spaces, it’s got to settle on a database design. While the Commission has at least identified its initial corps of database managers – originally a nine-member team to which a late-arriving Microsoft was recently added as a tenth – the system which those managers will be charged with implementing is still a work in progress.

Check back here for updates.

And Microsoft Makes Ten

Microsoft decided it, too, wants to be a wireless TV Band Device database administrator.  Well, so do we.

The FCC spent calendar year 2010 studying applications from nine companies that want to be wireless TV Band Device (TVBD) database administrators. The successful applicants will coordinate devices, when they become available, that operate in TV “white space” frequencies. 

Some of the nine applicants, like Google and Comsearch, have enormous expertise in large databases, while some of the others do not.

Last January the FCC, rather than pick winners and losers, simply approved all nine companies that applied.

A few weeks ago Microsoft decided it, too, wants to be a database administrator. Never mind that Microsoft came to this realization 15 months after the application deadline, and three months after the FCC’s decision naming the other nine administrators. Never mind the FCC’s insistence on deadlines in other contexts. (Try sending in your FCC license renewal 15 months after it was due.) Microsoft for some reason gets a pass, not to mention full consideration of its application: the Commission has invited comments on Microsoft’s proposal. “We intend to consider designating Microsoft as a TV bands database administrator,” says the FCC’s public notice.   After all, it continues, Microsoft representatives attended both of the FCC’s database administrator workshops. With a track record like that, why should deadlines matter?

Omitted from the public notice, although possibly a factor in the FCC’s thinking, is that Microsoft, along with a hardware company, demonstrated a TVBD system at the National Association of Broadcasters show in April. The set-up included Microsoft’s prototype white-space database software, which sounds impressive. But the actual operations involved exactly one base station, one client station, and one pretend signal entitled to protection – a far cry from an actual working system in the real world.

Also omitted from the public notice, but probably not a factor in the FCC’s thinking, is Microsoft’s own observation that becoming a database administrator would “enable it to assist its customers in bringing many white spaces applications to market quickly and efficiently.” So what’s good for Microsoft is good for . . . um, Microsoft.

We have no doubt that Microsoft’s qualifications equal or exceed those of at least some of the nine companies selected earlier. Not obvious, though, is that Microsoft’s qualifications are so overwhelming as to justify re-opening the application process after more than a year. Hey, if it’s that easy, we might put in an application ourselves, and make some extra money at home in our spare time. And maybe Microsoft can help us with that long-overdue FCC license renewal.

White Spaces Reminder: Deadline For Registering Distant OTA Receive Sites Fast Approaching

Initial deadline: April 5, 2011

If you’re a TV licensee providing over-the-air feeds to one or more distant translator/LPTV/Class A stations, cable head-ends or satellite local receive sites, heads up. You need to act soon if you want reception of your signal at those sites to be protected from unlicensed devices operating in the TV band. April 5, 2011 is the deadline for TV stations with receive sites more than 80 kilometers beyond their protected contour to seek a waiver of the Commission’s geographic limitation to be able to register such receive locations. Note: this is a one-time-only opportunity.

Back in 2008, when the Commission adopted rules to govern the operation of unlicensed devices in the so-called “TV white spaces”, it sought to protect existing TV operations by establishing a database in which certain locations requiring protection could be registered. While receive locations that happen to be within a TV station’s protected service area were already routinely protected, that wasn’t the case for receive sites serving distant TV translator/LPTV/Class A TV stations, satellite or cable (MVPD) services, all of which deliver the signal to viewers outside the originating station’s protected contour. The Commission decided to protect, within reasonable bounds, the ability of such stations and services to receive programming over-the-air for retransmission.  “Within reasonable bounds” in this context meant within 80 kilometers of the originating TV station’s protected contour. Translator/LPTV/Class A stations and MVPD services with receive sites so located were thus allowed to register their sites in the TV bands device database.

On reconsideration, though, the FCC determined that some MVPD services and translator/LPTV/Class A stations relying on over-the-air reception to obtain and redistribute TV signals are located more than 80 kilometers from the originating TV station’s protected service contour. In order to avoid disruption in those circumstances, the Commission opted to expand the notion of “within reasonable bounds” temporarily: it provided a 90-day opportunity (commencing with the effective date of the rules) for MVPD’s, TV translator, LPTV and Class A TV stations to request a rule waiver to allow them to register their receive locations in the TV bands devices database. This opportunity is available only for locations at which the TV programming is received over-the-air more than 80 kilometers from the originating station’s protected contour.

The initial 90-day waiver request filing period will expire on April 5, 2011. (Facilities that meet the geographic standards but don’t get licensed until later will have 90 days, starting with commencement of operation, to file for a waiver.)

Waiver requests should demonstrate how the operation of an unlicensed device near the relevant receive site would act to disrupt current patterns of television viewing. After a waiver request is received, the FCC will put it out for public comment and then will make a determination as to whether it will be granted.

The Commission has not yet provided any special instructions for the filing of such a waiver request.  Check back here for updates on that score. But absent any such instructions, it would appear that filing through the Secretary’s office with a reference to ET Docket Nos. 02-380 and 04-186 should do the trick. Electronic filing in the dockets might also be a possibility – but, again, the FCC hasn’t given any guidance yet. We’ll post a follow-up on this as developments warrant.

White Space Database Administrator Sweepstakes - Everybody's A Winner! (Except Maybe Affected Spectrum Users)

Nine companies will compete while sharing responsibilities and data.

You know those T-ball games for very young children where everyone is declared a winner and everyone takes home a trophy?

Keep that in mind for a few minutes.

The FCC, as our readers know by now, has authorized wireless TV Band Devices (TVBDs) that will operate in the “white spaces” on the TV frequency map – i.e., on TV channels that have no local TV station. Proponents, who like to call these devices “Wi-Fi on steroids,” claim they will boost the availability of wireless services with extended range, fewer dead spots, and improved speeds, promote rural broadband, aid education and medicine, and further spectrum efficiency. And create jobs. And also clear up that annoying rash.

As a condition of operation, the millions of expected TVBDs will have to avoid causing interference to active TV stations, the many wireless microphones that share the TV band, and certain TV reception sites. To do this, most will consult a complex and changing database that indicates where TVBDs can safely operate. The existence of a database in turn presupposes one or more “database administrators.” Last November, the FCC invited interested parties to submit applications for that role.

Nine companies responded. Some, like Google and Comsearch, have enormous expertise in constructing and maintaining large databases. The qualifications of some others are less obvious.

The FCC made its choice by not making a choice: It approved all nine applicants as database administrators, with the expectation they will compete among themselves for business.

This inclusive non-decision may reflect the FCC’s often-expressed distaste for “picking winners and losers.” Or it might follow from the FCC’s having neglected to state, at the outset, the criteria it would use for selection, an omission that leaves it vulnerable to challenge from the losers. This problem does not arise, of course, if there are no losers.

One applicant and a wireless microphone coalition challenged the impartiality of some other applicants. The FCC responded with a stern injunction against the administrators engaging in anti-competitive practices, and a promise of careful oversight.

Here at CommLawBlog, we have two concerns.

The FCC could have decided to manage the database itself. It certainly knows how; it keeps close track of millions of licenses. The FCC opted instead to farm out the work. With one or two administrators, that might have been a labor-saving move. But riding herd on nine of them, some inexperienced, each working with a database built to a different design, might turn out to be more work for the FCC than just doing the job on its own.

The other problem relates to data quality. Each administrator will keep its own database, but all nine must reflect the same underlying reality. Some of the data are slow-moving and should be easy to maintain – TV station contours, for example, and locations of protected TV receive sites, such as cable TV headends and TV translators. Potentially more troublesome, though, will be wireless microphone users’ frequent and changing registrations as they sign up for short-term interference protection at sporting events, political events, concerts, etc. These data will be volatile.

Suppose NBC, say, as part of its planning to cover an event, logs on to its preferred database administrator and registers a few dozen wireless microphones by date, time, place, and TV channel number. That information must be made available to every TVBD in the vicinity of the event, through every database administrator. Accordingly, the administrator receiving the registration must quickly and accurately disseminate it to the other eight, in a form that allows easy incorporation into their own, differently-designed databases. This kind of coordination is hard enough among two or three parties. We wonder whether nine can bring it off reliably.

And those nine will be competitors after the same business. It may become tempting for some to try making the others look bad by feeding them bad (or late) information. Even greater will be the temptation to cut costs by using ill-trained and badly supervised staff. Just as the hygiene of a shared kitchen quickly sinks to the level of the sloppiest person using it, so will the quality of the shared data reflect the least careful administrator.  (Users may appreciate the lower cost . . . at least until they realize that you do, in fact, get what you pay for.) 

To say, “You’re all winners!” is fine for T-ball. But maintaining a large and critical database takes real skill and a large measure of dedication. We may all come to wish the FCC had exercised greater adult authority in making its choices.

Update: White Spaces Rules To Become Effective January 5, 2011*

* but NOT “information collection” rules or, as a practical matter, any white spaces rules dependent on existence of any FCC-blessed white spaces database

As we reported last September the Commission disposed of 17 petitions for reconsideration of its white spaces rules, and thereby set the stage for getting those rules up and running. Or so many folks may have thought. But no job is ever done until the paperwork is wrapped up, and the mere release of the Second Memorandum Opinion and Order didn’t do the trick – such items must first be published in the Federal Register.

That publication has now happened . . . so most – but not all – the white spaces rules are now officially set to take effect on January 5, 2011.

Why not all? Because a number of the rules – specifically, §§15.713, 15.714, 15.715 and 15.717 – involve “information collections” which can’t be implemented before the OMB approves them. So those particular rules are not subject to the January 5 effective date.

But even though we now have an official effective date, we probably won’t be seeing white spaces gear screaming off the shelves and improving all of our lives right away. That’s because the white spaces rules depend in large measure on the existence of a national white spaces database compiled and maintained by a manager . . . and the Commission has yet to sign off on a database system or select a manager. While there have been some indications that progress is being made on those fronts and that we might see some developments real soon, the roll-out of virtually all white spaces devices will, as a practical matter, be on hold until the FCC wraps up the necessary paperwork on that part of the process.

Plans For Gobbling Up TV Spectrum To Be Unveiled Post-Thanksgiving

FCC’s November 30 agenda also includes proposals affecting experimental licenses, short-term spectrum use.

The FCC is preparing itself for an exciting 2011.

Here in the CommLawBlog bunker, we usually wait for things to happen before reporting on them. But the FCC’s recent release of the planned agenda for its November 30 meeting serves up items likely to cause such a huge stir that we all might need a little advance warning.

First is a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on “TV Spectrum Innovation.” Remember the DTV transition when, among other changes, almost all TV stations switched their channels? The FCC wants to do it again. The shift to DTV freed up 108 MHz of prime spectrum, half of which the FCC auctioned off for $20 billion. It’s hard to argue with that many zeroes, so it’s back to the well for another dip. 

The idea is to take away still more TV spectrum and auction that off, too. In theory, a displaced broadcaster could walk away with some of the auction money and open an aromatherapy boutique, or whatever his/her life’s dream is. Or he/she might double up with another broadcaster on a surviving channel. Although the FCC can authorize the channel sharing itself, sharing the auction money would require action by Congress. (As we have previously reported – here (about S. 3610) or here (about H.R. 5947), or here (about S. 3756) – that legislation is already in the works.) While the FCC has made no secret of its aim to scavenge TV spectrum for broadband use, the precise mechanics have not yet been spelled out. On November 30 we should get a clearer picture of what the FCC has in mind.

We are also interested to see how the expected changes will affect plans for “white space” devices. These, if they ever appear, are supposed to operate in unused TV spectrum, but the FCC’s plans will make that scarce. The wireless microphones used in TV and movie production, among other applications, also use vacant TV channels, and may likewise have less spectrum to work in. The “spectrum domino effect” at work.

The second item on the November 30 agenda is a proposed change to the experimental licensing rules.  This category of license allows companies, universities, and others to experiment with kinds of radios, often newly developed, that do not comply with the FCC’s detailed technical rules. In fact, most of the wireless gadgets we use every day started life under one of these experimental licenses. The substance of how these licenses work has been largely unchanged for decades. The FCC is considering a facelift to make them more flexible.

Third is a Notice of Inquiry on “opportunistic use” of spectrum. In this context the term has no derogatory connotations, but rather refers to radio technologies that “sniff” the air for temporarily vacant frequencies, and move into them until the rightful owner needs them back. The FCC here continues a sequence of developments that began with software-defined radios in 2001, and continued with cognitive radios in 2005. It also continues a parallel effort, under the general heading “secondary markets,” toward setting up licensing rules that facilitate temporary handovers of spectrum.

By the time of the FCC meeting on November 30, the leftover turkey should be gone, the tryptophan should have worn off, and we should all be ready to work. The FCC will give all of us here plenty to work on.

FCC Okays White Space Devices

New rules eliminate back-up protection for TV stations and wireless microphones.

The FCC has ruled on 17 petitions for reconsideration of the TV “white spaces” rules. This action allows unlicensed wireless networks and devices – “Wi-Fi on steroids,” some call them – to operate on locally vacant TV channels, called “white space” frequencies because they show up as white areas on maps of frequency usage. 

The FCC earlier tried to rename the gadgets “TV band devices,” or TVBDs, but the white space nomenclature is hard to shake.

Whatever the name, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Dell Computer are drooling at the prospect. They have told the FCC to expect a lot of hot spots and campus networks, and they are using all the right technical and political buzzwords.   Here in the CommLawBlog bunker, though, we're accustomed to dazzling PowerPoint that never materializes into actual products, so we tend to take a wait-and-see attitude.

The technical problems with white space devices center on avoiding interference to TV stations and the wireless microphones that have long used vacant TV channels. The original plan called for each device both to use geolocation – ascertaining its own position using GPS and consulting a database to find locally vacant channels – and also to “sniff” for TV stations and wireless microphones, a process called spectrum sensing. (The FCC exempted from geolocation certain devices under the control of other devices and, separately, allowed for the possibility of some sensing-only devices.)

The new decision confirms the geolocation requirement, with many critical details still to be fleshed out by the Office of Engineering and Technology. But the FCC has pulled back on sensing. When it tested spectrum sensing technologies several months ago, none of them worked well. This result surprised us, as white space proponents had touted sensing as the ultimate safeguard against interference. In some other universe, the agency might insist the promised technology function properly before it allowed deployment. This universe, though, works differently: the FCC’s spectrum-exploding train will not be de-railed, so they simply dropped the sensing requirement for devices that use geolocation.

Sensing-only devices are still allowed, but only under very rigid technical constraints that will be hard for manufacturers to satisfy. Because database checking will usually be the sole feature for avoiding interference, the FCC promised a rigorous certification procedure to make sure devices handle this function properly. Again, no details.

The FCC struggled, with only limited success, to accommodate users of wireless microphones in broadcasting, theater, movie-making, sporting events, and public gathering places like churches and auditoriums. The FCC will reserve two TV channels in each geographic area for wireless microphones, which it thinks will accommodate 12-16 microphone voice channels. Some parts of the country will also have other channels closed to white space devices and available for wireless microphones. Large productions, though, often use 100 or more. Microphone operators may request to have specific events entered into the white space database, which should (if all goes according to plan, that is) automatically keep white space devices away. Requests to protect unlicensed microphones must show that the channels free of white space devices cannot do the job. These requests will be subject to public comment, which requires 30 days advance notice. Without a database entry, and in the absence of spectrum sensing, the microphones will have no protection against white space devices on the same channel. 

In the end, the FCC believes wireless microphones should move to more efficient digital technology. But it did not address the difficult engineering problems that so far have barred this option.

The question of using vacant TV channels for backhaul links in rural areas is deferred.

Read the FCC’s news release on the decision and the full text of the White Spaces order.

[Blogmeister's Note:  This post has been updated as of 9/24/10 to provide additional information culled from the full text of the Commission's white spaces order.]

FCC Heading For The White Open Spaces

Upcoming Commission meeting may finally give green light to new technology

The FCC has announced that it plans to take up the long-pending white space proceeding at its upcoming September 23 meeting. Since that proceeding has been largely out of the spotlight for the better part of 18 months, it seemed a good idea to remind our readers, and ourselves, of the issues on the table in the white space proceeding and how the Commission has addressed those issues to date.

The white space proceeding started in 2002 with a reasonably straight-forward premise. Every city has dozens of TV channels, with exceptional propagation characteristics, sitting empty. Why not use them for something?  Low-power, unlicensed wireless devices operating on these unused channels – channels dubbed “white spaces” because they show up in white on a frequency map – could be deployed for a variety of uses, thereby increasing the efficient use of the spectrum. What’s not to like?

In theory, the concept looks great. But in practice, potential problems abound.

The primary concern, of course, is interference to other spectrum users. Each unlicensed device constitutes a potential source of interference if its operator happens to turn it on in the wrong place at the wrong time. And because the device is unlicensed, neither the FCC nor the victim of the interference will have any easy way of identifying the source of the interference. 

The white space proceeding has thus been an effort to take advantage of the potential for wide-spread use of low-power, unlicensed devices on TV frequencies while protecting licensed users of those frequencies. Those licensed users include not only TV stations, but also wireless microphone users (a broad universe which includes not only TV and movie producers, but also churches, theaters and live music venues).

Back in 2002 the Commission kicked things off with a Notice of Inquiry relating to the possible use of portions of the TV band for unlicensed use. From that beginning, the Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2004, which led to a First Report and Order in 2006, and then a Second Report and Order in 2008. The Commission’s deliberations were complicated by the fact that, throughout this time, the TV band was in the process of the digital transition, a process which wasn’t completed for full-power stations until June, 2009.

Meanwhile, a range of white space gadgets – now renamed “television band devices” (TVBDs) – was being developed by various proponents eager to get in on the ground floor of what many perceive to be a singular opportunity to create vast new and lucrative markets. In 2007, and again in 2008, the Commission tested out a number of prototype TVBDs in the field and in its lab. The goal was to see whether the devices could provide protection against interference.

The FCC advanced two basic approaches to interference protection. In one, the TVBD is capable of: (a) accurately identifying its own location (through GPS technology); and (b) cross-checking that location against a database of existing licensed spectrum users in that area. That cross-check process would preclude use of any frequency already licensed for use within a certain area. In the second approach, the TVBD is equipped with sensing capability allowing it to “sniff out” other uses of the TV band and automatically switch channels to avoid interference to such other uses.

Through several rounds of testing – testing which did not necessarily duplicate all real-world conditions – the “sniff out” technology did not fare particularly well. Still, the FCC concluded that the results demonstrated a “proof of concept”. In 2008 it adopted rules to authorize TVBDs under certain conditions. (As my colleague Mitchell Lazarus observed at the time, the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk also demonstrated the feasibility of powered, heavier-than-air, flight as a “proof of concept”, but it still took 30 more years for the check-in lines to form at O’Hare.)

The 2008 rules did not give an unequivocal green light to TVBDs, however. The rules imposed three constraints:

  • Operation is flatly prohibited on certain channels, and in certain areas, and on some channels in some areas.
  • Every TVBD must know where it is, and have a current list of open channels for that location, or else it must operate under the direct control of a TVBD having that information. (Manufacturers can bypass this rule by undertaking extra procedures; see below).
  • Every TVBD must sense the spectrum for incumbents on the channel it is using.

The details were stringent. Device locations, for example, must be determined to within 50 meters, a requirement that only GPS can fulfill today. The catalog of available channels must be updated at least daily. Sensing must achieve a detection level of -114 dBm, equivalent to 0.004 trillionths of a watt – yet even this sensitivity could miss TV signals that are viewable with a good outdoor antenna.

Under the rules, TVBDs must be certified by the FCC before they can be marketed. To protect incumbent users of the TV band from millions of interference-causing renegade TVBDs, the Commission added extraordinary steps to the usual certification process. First, the manufacturer must test the device itself. Next, the Commission re-runs the tests, both in its lab and then again on the mean streets of America. Finally, the Commission seeks public comment on the TVBDs’ test results.  Only after the successful conclusion of this stringent certification process would the Commission permit the importation and sale of any TVBD.

While the rules were technically adopted in 2008, they have not, for the most part, yet taken effect.   Approval by the Office of Management and Budget is necessary before crucial elements of the new rules can be implemented. (Those crucial elements include the rules concerning the database of occupied channels and the procedures for approving sensing-only devices.) Also, to the extent that the protection system requires the existence of a comprehensive, accurate, frequently-updated database which TVBDs may check against, TVBDs can’t be rolled out until that database is in place. To date, that database is still on the drawing boards. (The Commission did invite proposals for the design and maintenance of such a database in November, 2009.)

Also, the Commission still has to resolve issues raised in 17 petitions seeking reconsideration of the 2008 rules. The petitioners include:

  • broadcast-related interests who seek a return to square one, arguing that the record does not support any unlicensed devices on TV channels;
  • LPTV stations that lack needed protection for still-ongoing analog operations;
  • petitioners objecting to a great many specific technical rules, including emission limits, separation requirements, sensing levels, power levels for first-adjacent channels, special procedures for sensing-only devices, and fixed base station heights, among others;
  • cable satellite TV providers that claim inadequate protection for headends and cable-ready TV sets; and
  • those presenting other issues: real-time operation of the database that catalogs available TV channels; database information security and registration requirements; pending negotiations with the Mexican government; rejected proposals, such as licensed use of white space frequencies; and too many more to list here.

Additionally, an appeal of the rules is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, although that has been held in abeyance while the FCC works through the reconsiderations and database development.

So when the Commission rolls up its sleeves to tackle the white space proceeding at its September 23 meeting, it will theoretically be trying to (a) resolve the pending petitions for reconsideration and (b) get the database set up. 

While those are already complex problems, they are further complicated by the brooding omnipresence that casts its shadow on everything the Commission does these days: the National Broadband Plan (NBP). The NBP expressly recommended that the Commission move forward with the white-spaces proceeding. That makes sense, since the NBP is all about increasing the efficient use of spectrum while encouraging technological innovation. 

But the NBP also entails the possibility – if not substantial likelihood – that the FCC may reallocate up to 120 MHz of TV spectrum for broadband use. That in turn would require “repacking” of the remaining TV spectrum by moving existing TV stations from the reallocated spectrum to channels in the remaining TV band. The repacking process would almost certainly increase congestion in the TV band, which could reduce available white space and thus complicate the roll-out of white space devices.

There is much at stake in the highly technical, highly contentious white space proceeding. The Commission has thus far struggled to strike a workable balance between protection of incumbent licensees and the desire to unleash innovative TVBD services. Presumably that struggle continues.   Just among ourselves, we think it might even continue beyond the September 23 meeting.

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.

FCC Attaches Strings To Wireless Mics

Changes accommodate widespread unauthorized use of wireless mics – some uses prohibited, new labeling rules, temporary power limits imposed

The FCC has bitten the bullet and taken steps to clear the 700 MHz band of wireless microphones in order to make room for new uses. At the same time, it has legalized these devices in the hands of formerly unlawful users.

Wireless microphones are ubiquitous. We see them on live and televised music shows and in TV news reporting. They are just as important, although less visible, when hidden under clothing in movies and TV drama and in live theater; they are equally indispensable to sports arenas, houses of worship, community centers, universities – anywhere that one person speaks to many. Even the FCC’s own meeting room has a few.

Most professional wireless microphones use unoccupied channels in the TV bands. These do not cause interference to TV reception because the large users, and the companies that sell to small users, are careful about avoiding TV channels in use. Even the organizations devoted to protecting broadcast spectrum have accepted wireless microphones.

Until now, the use of wireless microphones required an FCC license. Eligibility was strictly limited to broadcasters and radio, TV, cable, and movie production, and a few other groups. All other users – music venues, Broadway shows, churches, garage bands – have been operating illegally. These folks are supposed to use non-TV frequencies, but the TV-band microphones work better, and so are by far the most popular. Even so, the unlicensed use of wireless microphones caused no trouble, so the FCC left things alone.

Then came the digital TV transition, in the course of which the FCC repacked the channels to free up the 700 MHz band (the channels formerly known as TV Channels 52-69) for other uses. But some wireless microphones left over from before the transition still operate in that part of the band. These may cause problems for the new users of 700 MHz, primarily public safety and commercial applications.

The FCC has now issued a 101-page Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that attempts to both clear the 700 MHz band and legitimize the non-licensed users.

The bottom line: starting when the new rules are published in the Federal Register (likely within the next few weeks), wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary devices on Channels 52-69 may no longer be imported, manufactured, sold, or leased in the United States. Use of any such devices now in operation must cease by June 12, 2010, with no exceptions. They must clear out earlier on 60-days notice from a 700 MHz operator who plans to start operations, and immediately if they cause actual interference at any time.

None of this is a surprise.   The FCC has been saying for over a decade that Channels 52-69 must be vacated. But it has waited unto now, six months after the DTV transition, to take definitive action.

The widespread use of non-licensed microphones puts the FCC in a bit of a predicament. The Commission would take far too much heat if it started confiscating unauthorized devices and shutting down Broadway and Sunday Mass, to say nothing of your kid’s school play. Rather than investigate and prosecute ineligible users, the FCC decided instead to find a way for everyone to get most of what they want. 

For now, both old and new users who are currently ineligible for licenses may nonetheless operate legally on an unlicensed basis, at up to 50 milliwatts power, until the FCC decides on permanent rules. In the “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” portion of its document, the Commission has invited comments on who should be eligible for licenses in the future, how licensed and unlicensed operation should be permitted, and what technical standards should apply.   The FCC must figure out power limits, whether new units must be digital to minimize interference potential, which TV channels should be available, and the interference implications to and from “white space” devices, including the details of database registration for wireless microphones. The rules are likely to forbid data transmission, interconnection with the telephone network, wireless telephone headsets, and after-market RF amplifiers. (Comments on these questions will be due 30 days after the order is published in the Federal Register; reply comments will be due 51 days after Fed Reg publication.)

And enough, says the FCC, of selling wireless microphones to customers who do not understand the license requirements. Effective February 28, 2010, conspicuous disclosure will be required throughout the distribution chain – on websites, in catalogs, in displays, and even on the boxes in which microphones are sold – to warn buyers about which frequencies are legal and who needs a license.  (See the required disclosure language here.) The FCC is even considering making customers sign an acknowledgment that they understand the rules (which might work as well as their requirement, given up some decades back, that make everyone with a CB radio get a license).

Retailers must pull 700 MHz-capable units off their shelves immediately.  Those units may now be manufactured only for export, and starting April 15, 2010 (the Office of Management and Budget willing, that is), must be labeled in all cases with a clear advisory that the units cannot be used in the U.S.  Manufacturers are encouraged to continue trade-in and rebate programs that replace noncompliant devices and are expected to notify users who have filed warranty registrations.

Current licenses that authorize 700 MHz band operation will automatically be modified to delete those frequencies effective June 12, 2010, but will remain valid for lower frequencies. A few licenses which are for only the 700 MHz band will be void. 

So your clergy will not be forced to shout from the pulpit, Broadway will not shut down, and rock bands will still split your ears, thanks to a better organized and more realistic regulatory scheme. And the FCC can keep on using the wireless microphones in its meeting room.

Read the Order here.

Deadlines Set For 700 MHz Comments

On August 22 we reported on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to clear out all auxiliary operations in the 700 MHz band in advance of the February 17, 2009, DTV Transition.  The deadlines for submitting comments on the Commission’s proposals have been established.  October 3, 2008, is the deadline for comments, and October 20 is the deadline for reply comments.

FCC Whacks 700 (MHz) Club

As part of its effort to completely clear all broadcast operations out of the 700 MHz band following the February 17, 2009, DTV transition, the Commission has imposed a freeze on any new authorizations for low power auxiliary equipment in that band. (Actually, the precise frequency block at issue runs from 698-806 MHz, but that chunk of spectrum is commonly referred to as the 700 MHz band.) Perhaps more importantly, the Commission has also proposed to modify all outstanding licenses which provide for such operation – the proposed modification being that authority to operate in the 700 MHz band will terminate as of February 17, 2009.

Generally, the equipment affected by this sweeping order and related proposal serves auxiliary functions, such as cue and control communications, TV camera synchronization and the like – but it appears that the most prevalent, or at least most controversial, low power 700 MHz equipment consists of wireless microphones.

While the Commission has made crystal clear for years that full-service broadcast service would be removed from the 700 MHz band as of the DTV Transition date, the Commission has not previously been as clear about low power auxiliary operations that have also been permitted in that band. The FCC now says that everyone engaging in such operations should have (and may have) figured out their days were numbered, but it does not appear that the FCC has previously taken a position, directly or otherwise, on the subject.

Whether or not the FCC’s silence to date has been the result of conscious planning or inadvertent oversight, the agency has now snapped into action with a vengeance. As a result, effective August 21 the Commission will not accept or grant applications for further licenses for low power services in the 700 MHz band, nor will it process any requests for equipment authorization which would involve such services.

Looking ahead, the Commission has proposed to modify all outstanding low power 700 MHz licenses to specify that, to the extent that those licenses permit operation in the 700 MHz band, they will expire as of February 17, 2009. According to the Commission, a wide range of alternate frequencies are available for use for such services, so roping off that particular band should have only “minimal impact” on such operations.

The Commission has also proposed a blanket prohibition against the marketing of any devices that operate as low power auxiliary stations in the 700 MHz band. That would include the manufacture, import, sale, offer for sale or shipment of such devices. The prohibition would take effect as soon as the proposal is adopted. Since this proceeding appears to be on a fast track, it’s possible that the prohibition could be in effect before the end of the year.

Besides the upcoming DTV Transition deadline, a major impetus for the FCC’s sudden concern about low power 700 MHz operation was pressure from the “Public Interest Spectrum Coalition” (PISC), which filed a complaint against a number of wireless microphone manufacturers and a petition proposing, among other things, the creation of a “General Wireless Microphone Service” to utilize, on a secondary basis, vacant UHF channels below Channel 52. The Commission has requested comments on all of the PISC proposals. The context of that request, however, suggests that it is largely pro forma in nature, and that the Commission’s real interest lies with the proposals, described above, which the agency specifically addresses elsewhere in its order.

The FCC’s decision does not address precisely how the agency would enforce a blanket prohibition against everyone who currently owns and operates a 700 MHz wireless mike. Many such mikes are used by organizations – churches, theaters, corporate event venues, among many others – who presumably are not especially au courant about the technical details of their gear, much less the FCC’s pronouncements. If the FCC thinks that it can wave its magic rulemaking wand and make all low power 700 MHz operation vanish in the blink of an eye, it probably has at least one more think coming.

The deadline for comments on the FCC’s (and PISC’s) proposals has not yet been established. Check back here for updates.