TV Stations Urge Go-Slow Approach on Wi-Fi

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Public and commercial broadcasters are asking the Federal Communications Commission to delay plans to let Wi-Fi (wireless) local-area networks and other unlicensed communications devices operate on vacant TV channels.

The FCC proposal “would produce many detrimental and unintended consequences to America’s free, over-the-air television service but fails to present any meaningful method for resolving such problems,” the National Association of Broadcasters wrote in comments filed with the FCC Tuesday. “The public would be ill-served by its adoption.”

NAB was joined in its comments by digital-TV trade group MSTV.

Moving forward now would create potential for new interference to TV reception from these devices and complicate TV stations’ efforts to pick their permanent DTV channel, said Pappas Telecasting. “The commission has failed to show that there is an overriding justification for the introduction of these unlicensed devices at this time.”

The Association for Public Television Stations agrees with that assessment. Until broadcasters have picked their permanent channels and real-world testing of the devices proves that there will be no interference, introduction of the new service puts at risk the billion-plus dollars that public stations have invested in construction of DTV facilities.

Cable operators are also concerned that the devices will create unforeseen interference with existing broadcasters because cable systems rely heavily on stations’ over-the-air signals to receive the local channels they must provide subscribers. “The public expectation of high-quality broadcast television signals and other services from cable operators must not be compromised,” the National Cable & Telecommunications Association told the FCC.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, an association that certifies interoperability of wireless local area network products, however, is eager for the FCC to move forward. It asked the commission to allow telecom companies great leeway in choosing which interference-mitigation techniques they believe work the best rather than forcing a particular method on the industry.

The FCC is considering letting unlicensed devices operate on vacant channels as a way of alleviating a spectrum shortage created by the proliferation of new telecom devices. Broadcasters say there is enough open spectrum at the moment to accommodate demand and no harm will be done by waiting for the DTV switch to complete before using TV spectrum.

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