News

Running Interference

3/21/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

The cable industry has asked the Federal Communications Commission to change its rules to better protect cable operators and their customers from potential interference from unlicensed devices sharing the “white spaces” between DTV channels.

That came in a petition for reconsideration, one of more than a dozen and a half filed at the commission by various parties with a bone to pick.

The FCC decided unanimously back in the fall to allow fixed and mobile unlicensed devices like laptops and so-called smart radios to share the spectrum with TV stations' digital signals and wireless microphones, but with interference protections and a certification procedure it said protected incumbent users.

In its petition, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said the FCC had failed to strike its intended balance between allowing the devices and protecting existing services, specifically cable.

“[W]hile purporting to take into account any adverse effect on broadcasters,” the NCTA said, “[the commission] gave little regard to the impact on existing and up-and-coming cable services. Indeed, the commission failed in several major respects to adopt precautions to protect cable consumers from proven harmful interference from white-spaces devices.”

The NCTA argued, and included studies backing its point, that the power levels the FCC approved for personal portable devices will interfere with cable reception, particularly in adjoining house units such as apartments.

And while the association conceded that the FCC tried to reduce the possible interference to distant signals being delivered to cable headends, the agency fell short of the mark.

Included in the NCTA's filing were its own independent field tests, which it said “make definitely clear” that cable operations will be subject to “harmful interference.”

But the NCTA said it is not seeking absolute protection from interference, just more protection, which included lowering the power levels for the portable devices, as well as greater separation between fixed devices and cable households and various protections for cable headends.

Others filing petitions included microphone maker Shure, which also wants greater interference protections; unlicensed device-maker Motorola, which argues that the FCC's interference protections were too “overprotective of incumbents”; and satellite companies DirecTV and Dish Network, which asked the agency to clarify that its headend protections also extend to them, saying the commission “should clarify that all MVPD local receive facilities are eligible for such interference protection.”

Not seeking reconsideration were the Association for Maximum Service Television and the National Association of Broadcasters, two of the strongest opponents of allowing the white-spaces devices. That's because both have already taken the decision directly to court, which precludes the dual track of an FCC challenge.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers, which did not join in the court fight, did weigh in with numerous suggestions for heightening interference protections.