FCC Rules on White Spaces

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on November 4 adopted a Second Report and Order that establishes rules to allow new wireless devices to operate in broadcast television spectrum on a secondary basis at locations where that spectrum is open. This unused TV spectrum is now commonly referred to as television “white spaces.” The rules adopted will allow for the use of these new types of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses. According to the FCC, the rules include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference, and will allow for both fixed and personal/portable unlicensed devices. Such devices must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the internet a database of the incumbent services, such as full-power and low-power TV stations and cable system headends, in addition to spectrum-sensing technology. The database will tell the white space device what spectrum may be used at that location.

Although many wireless microphone manufacturers have conveyed strong concerns about this move, the FCC says such devices will be protected. The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the database and will be protected in the same way as other services. The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

All white space devices are subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory. The Laboratory will request samples of the devices for testing to ensure that they meet all the pertinent requirements. The Commission also will permit certification of devices that do not include the geolocation and database access capabilities, and instead rely solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process.

The ruling disappointed some wireless microphone industry advocates (such as Shure) who delineated specific concerns they feel have not been addressed adequately. Concern has been expressed that the Commission’s action opens the door to a new breed of wireless gadgetry that relies on “unproven” technology as a safeguard against interference to wireless microphones. Critics also say the Commission did not reserve an appropriate number of channels for flawless operation of wireless microphone equipment and did not address numerous important issues necessary to ensure a robust geolocation-based database for protection of large-scale events.

If you have any specific questions regarding white spaces and how they affect your organization, please contact Shanahan directly at 800-786-1556.

Used with permission of Testa Communications from the November 2008 Sound & Communications magazine eNEWSLETTER. For more information, go to www.soundandcommunications.com.