FCC Launches Wireless-Broadband Rulemaking


The Federal Communications Commission Thursday took the first step toward opening vacant TV channels to commercial providers of wireless-broadband services on an unlicensed basis.

The FCC has been struggling to find scarce spectrum for the booming wireless-broadband market, led by 802.11 (Wi-Fi) technology, a competitive threat to high-speed cable-modem and digital-subscriber-line services that offers both fast speeds and mobility.

The agency unanimously adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking designed to determine whether unlicensed Wi-Fi providers can coexist with local TV stations without causing harmful interference to broadcasters.

“As a regulator, I think there is a home for both,” FCC member Kathleen Abernathy said. “I think we can find a way for them to coexist.”

FCC chairman Michael Powell has made it a priority to promote deployment over wires and the airwaves -- a goal embraced by the Bush White House as a means of spurring economic growth.

“There are potential risks to broadcasting, and we have to deal with them,” Powell said. “We should be willing to be bold, for the benefit of the age of personal communications, to continue to try to find ways to be creative with spectrum.”

FCC member Kevin Martin said he had concerns that the proposal might interfere with broadcasters’ digital transition, but he did not provide specifics.

Broadcast spectrum, which is parceled out in 6-megahertz blocks, is considered beachfront property because the frequencies are robust over long stretches of terrain largely without regard to topography.

“The good news is that it’ll penetrate buildings. It penetrates foliage, as well,” said Ed Thomas, chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering & Technology.

The FCC is hoping to exploit available spectrum between channels 5-51, excluding channel 37, which is used for radio astronomy. The availability of spectrum will vary by market size.

“In Montana, you might have 500 MHz if you’re on top of a mountain,” Thomas said.

The National Association of Broadcasters voiced its opposition to the NPR.

“We have serious concerns that the introduction of unlicensed devices into the television band could result in unforeseen interference in broadcast service to millions of television viewers,” NAB CEO Edward O. Fritts said in a prepared statement.

“Free, over-the-air television provides invaluable news, information and entertainment to local communities all over America and serves as a lifeline to citizens in times of crisis,” he added. “We will work with the FCC to ensure that this proposal can be accommodated while preserving interference-free over-the-air television.”