Eric Griffith, Managing Editor of Wi-Fi Planet
A new FCC proposal says frequencies generally reserved for television broadcasts may soon be used for wireless data services, and the Commission is holding a hearing tomorrow.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed this week that the unused areas of the broadcast television spectrum between channels 5 and 51 be used for wireless broadband.
The caveat is that no device using the unlicensed spectrum will be allowed to interfere with existing TV stations based on Part 15 of the FCC rules. Part 15 calls for separate certification of equipment and the overall wireless network.
Late last month, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt said that wireless broadband use should be allowed in the same spectrum used by analog UHF television stations. TV broadcasters have been leaving the frequencies behind as they convert to over-the-air digital. These lower frequencies let signals better penetrate buildings and travel longer distances—a boon for wireless ISPs.
TV broadcasters are not thrilled with the idea. National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) president and CEO Edward Fritts said in a posted statement, "We have serious concerns that the introduction of unlicensed devices into the television band could result in unforeseen interference in broadcast service to millions of television viewers." As of May 18, 2004 the NAB.org Web site says that 1216 TV stations in 207 markets are currently broadcasting digital signals.
The FCC believes that use of the vacant spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband devices would benefit WISP customers by extending current operations, particularly in rural areas or those with no broadband at all.
"The Commission believes that by carefully tailoring this initiative to protect incumbent television service, it provides a balanced proposal for the American public, for WISPs and for television station operators," said the FCC proposal announcement.
The FCC classifies the unlicensed broadband devices using the TV band in two categories. Low power "personal/portable" devices (such as a laptop with a wireless card or even an in-home LAN) and high-power fixed devices, such as towers for providing a commercial service. Both would be allowed to utilize the unused TV spectrum, but only with measures in place to protect any TV signals.
In a statement current FCC chair Michael Powell said this move would "dramatically increase the availability and quality of wireless Internet connections—the equivalent of doubling the number of lanes on a congested highway."
FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein however, while supporting the proposal, also called it "worrisome" to do this as the transition to digital TV is still underway: "Television broadcasts are viewed by people as perhaps the most sacred use of public spectrum. Their TV is not to be trifled with. We will hear an earful from consumers if this is not done right."
Public comment will be considered before the use of the TV spectrum is permitted. A final ruling on this proposal is expected before the end of the year.