Unlicensed To Kill DTV?
Spectrum lobbyists in Wi-Fi brawl
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/16/2005 8:00:00 PM
A battle between the broadcast industry and backers of a more wide-open spectrum policy is turning into wide-open warfare.
The Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), essentially the broadcasting industry’s spectrum watchdog, has been showing a videotape to staffers of the House and Senate Commerce committees warning of the dangers of allowing unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi–enabled laptops, to operate in the spaces between DTV channels. Backers of the devices say the video is a “shameless” attempt by broadcasters to protect their spectrum windfall from the digital transition.
The MSTV video, which is also available on its Web site (mstv.org), shows a viewer with an indoor antenna trying to watch various Washington-area DTV channels, only to have them stop abruptly and pixelate when adjacent-channel interference is simulated; a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop is identified as the likely culprit.
Broadcasters were alarmed last year by a proposal from then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell to allow “smart” devices—ones that can seek out available spectrum—to operate on the channels in the 2-51 band not occupied by DTV broadcasters.
Now computer companies said to include Microsoft and Intel, as well as independent wireless Internet service providers, are pressuring Congress to allow the smart devices to utilize unused frequencies. The issue could be included in one of the DTV-related bills that Congress is considering as it sets the rules of the road for spectrum reallocation during the DTV transition.
A principal advocate in Washington for the smart-device spectrum scenario has been the New America Foundation, which says that, rather than worrying about legitimate interference, broadcasters are being alarmist and obstructionist and simply want to warehouse spectrum that they can expand into at a later date.
It’s not about warehousing, says MSTV President David Donovan: “We are trying to protect the consumer equipment brought to market now from new devices that will interfere with them.”
New America Senior Research Fellow J.H. Snider says there is no merit to MSTV’s technical argument.
Snider says that the broadcasters’ video deals “with the few worst-case scenarios,” including using a device to produce a level of interference that even New America would agree is excessive. “I think they have generally found a problem—but one that is easily rectified.”
Michael Marcus, of Marcus Spectrum Solutions, a consultant to New America and former FCC associate chief of technology, says the new briefing paper he helped write will show that MSTV essentially used a loophole in the FCC proposal to create interference that a personal computer would be unlikely to ever produce.
“When they said in the video that the out-of-band emissions comply with the proposed FCC rules, they were right,” he says, but they were “not core to what the proponents want to do.” As for the extreme interference depicted in the video, he says, “real systems don’t do that. Two-hundred million personal computers meet the exact same technical standard that MSTV was twisting in that video.”
Donovan counters that the difference is, today’s computers “currently operate in spectrum that is nowhere near the broadcast band, as opposed to this proposal, which puts it smack dab in the middle of the TV band.”
Donovan also says that, if New America thought MSTV’s device was not real world, then “let them come up with a specific device, and let’s test it.”
The standards reflected in the MSTV video “were the standards laid out by the commission. We asked the FCC to get very specific,” Donovan says. “But they refused to get back to us under the argument that, if it were an unlicensed device, it could be anything. And that’s the problem of sharing an unlicensed service with a licensed one: You don’t know what’s coming at you until it hits you.”
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