FCC Turns Down Permit to Test Potential Spectrum-Enhancing Technologies

Published October 26, 2011

The Federal Communications Commission rejected a Portland, Oregon television station’s request for a Special Temporary Authority permit to test digital television transmissions that could free up valuable spectrum for wireless broadband deployment, a high-priority of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

The FCC denied the STA permit to WatchTV in late September. Greg Herman, WatchTV owner and president, said the agency had indicated as recently as July 2011 it would approve the permit, in a statement quoted in Broadcast Engineering.

WatchTV had requested FCC permission to test over-the-air transmission of orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) and orthogonal frequency-division modulated access (OFDMA) television signals that could convert four low-frequency analog television stations to digital transmissions. Low-frequency analog television stations were not required to convert to digital signals.

Technology Standard in China
Many broadcast engineers say the digital narrowband OFDM and OFDMA technologies are more robust than current wideband copper-based and wireless systems, are better able to handle sustained high frequencies, and are less susceptible to interference and signal fading. Herman argues OFDM and OFDMA might pave the way for hosting wireless Internet on existing television spectrum.

This past February the FCC denied an earlier permit request by WatchTV to test the technologies, which employ Converged Mobile Multimedia Broadcast receivers that are the standard used by an estimated 350 television stations in China and were once a competitor for DTV in the United States before the eventual adoption of the current 8-vestigial sideband technology.

“This is to inform you that the above-captioned request for modification is denied,” wrote FCC Media Bureau Chief William Lake, to Herman in February. “Although your submission is styled as a request for an experimental authorization, the request is a very unusual one. The proposal contemplates that analog TV service from four stations would cease and their programming would be transmitted from a different digital TV station on a multicast basis. The request contains no analysis of the potential impact on consumers; it merely assumes that virtually all viewers who previously received the analog signals will be able to receive the multicast digital signal.”

Outwitting the Market
“Lawmakers and regulators are dragging their feet on freeing up spectrum for use in wireless broadband,” said Jim Lakely, co-director of the Center on the Digital Economy at The Heartland Institute, which also publishes InfoTech & Telecom News.

“It’s because the airwaves are public and bureaucrats see it as their mission to protect that public property,” he added. “But the FCC is not intellectually equipped to make these decisions better than the license holders and outwit the wisdom of the market.”

The FCC shouldn’t interfere when time and efforts are self-financed, said Paul V. Tyahla, executive director of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a nonprofit education and research think tank.

“Expanding broadband spectrum is rightfully a high priority for the Federal Communications Commission, given that the government withholds swaths of it for itself and broadcast television outlets,” said Tyahla. “Here we have a broadcaster willing to invest its own money in an experiment that could benefit a national interest, and the commission’s refusal is indicative of its inability to move from its own, slow-paced plan. Government should be encouraging these types of experiments instead of shutting them down,” said Tyahla.

“The market will better decide the most useful and profitable use of the public airwaves than any bureaucrat in Washington—and they’ll do it faster, to boot,” said Lakely. “The nation is starving for more spectrum to bring about the next generation of wireless broadband, and the government needs to simply get out of the way.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.

Internet Info

“FCC Nixes Request to Experiment with OFDM-, OFDMA-Based TV Transmission,” Phil Kurz, Broadcast Engineering, September 20, 2011: http://broadcastengineering.com/hdtv/fcc-ofdm-ofdma-watchtv-greg-herman-09202011/?YM_MID=1259395&[email protected]