NCTA Seeking More White Spaces Review


Washington -- The cable industry, concerned about fuzzy TV pictures in its customers' homes resulting from a change in federal spectrum policy, is stepping up pressure to postpone the entry of portable wireless broadband devices on empty broadcast TV channels.

 The Federal Communications Commission is poised Nov. 4 to approve new uses of the so-called TV white spaces. But cable operators and TV stations claim the agency's plan would introduce devices that can operate at power levels certain to disrupt TV viewing in both cable and broadcast-only homes.

"This is frankly inexplicable," National Cable & Telecommunications Association senior vice president of law and regulatory policy Daniel Brenner said in a letter sent Monday to the FCC. "We urge the [FCC] not to rush to a decision that would ignore the unique and proven hazards of such devices to cable television viewers."

For years, the FCC has been studying whether low-power portable broadband devices can operate on unused TV channels without scrambling TV signals. High-tech firms, including Google and Microsoft, claim a new FCC engineering study supports that white spaces can be used without crippling incumbent services.

NCTA insists that the FCC's current plan would disrupt service in cable homes and interfere with the reception of TV signals at rural cable headends, central offices where TV singles are received and processed. NCTA which wants the FCC to put out the engineering study for public comment.

"We are troubled that the [FCC] is prepared to adopt a final rule without formally seeking  public comment on a major technical study," Brenner's letter said.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin is advocating use of the white spaces, though under conditions that he says will protect incumbents from harmful interference.

Brenner's letter said cable consumers who experience interference from a nearby white spaces device won't know whether the problem is their cable service or their TV sets. A consumer who pinpointed the problem as stemming from a neighbor's white spaces device wouldn't have a ready solution because the neighbor wouldn't be required to turn it off.

"All around, this will be a frustrating experience for potentially millions of cable customers," he said.

Jake Ward, spokesman for the White Spaces Coalition, a group of tech companies backing Martin, said the results of the FCC's engineering study didn't need further review.

"To suggest that the [FCC] has been anything other than thorough, given the more than four years the FCC has considered this issue, the 14 months they have dedicated to data collection, and the 30,000 comments that have been filed in the white space docket, is disingenuous and a direct challenge to the integrity of the process and the [FCC] itself,." Ward said.