FCC extends comment deadline on UHF channel space for unlicensed use, wireless mics

After the FCC made a series of decisions designed to set the stage for next year's incentive auction, the FCC's media bureau announced it is extending the comment deadline in the proceeding that seeks comment on rules to preserve vacant TV channels for shared use by white space devices and wireless microphones.

The new deadlines are Sept. 30 for comments and Oct. 30 for reply comments and come after the FCC's media bureau on July 29 suspended the comment and reply deadlines in the proceeding. So the comments are now on again.

As CommLawBlog explains it, the commission has decided to assign television stations within the 600 MHz Band (in other words, without restriction within that band, including the duplex gap) where necessary to help fulfill the incentive auction's clearing target objectives. However, that could put the squeeze on spectrum originally thought to be reserved for white space devices and wireless mics, so now the commission has tentatively concluded that it will designate a second TV channel for white space devices/wireless mic operation in areas "where the duplex gap is subject to impairment." The proposal is outlined in Paragraph 32 of the FCC's "Auctions Procedures Public Notice."

In its auctions procedures public notice, the commission said it adopted a proposal to allow what it refers to as the optimization tool to assign TV stations within the 600 MHz band where necessary to accommodate market variation in a manner that best fulfills the clearing target objectives and not to restrict it to assignments in specific portions of the 600 MHz band, including the duplex gap.

"To mitigate the potential impact on white space devices and wireless microphones in areas where the duplex gap is subject to impairment, we tentatively conclude that we will designate a second available television channel in the remaining television band in such areas for shared use by white space devices and wireless microphones, in addition to the one such channel we have tentatively concluded will be made available in each area of the United States for shared use by these devices and microphones," the FCC said in its notice.

"White space devices and wireless microphone advocates maintain that lack of access to the duplex gap in areas where it is subject to impairment will limit the public's access to the benefits these services provide," the commission said. "We propose to address this concern by requiring demonstration of the availability of a second television channel in accordance with the procedures proposed in the Vacant Channel NPRM in geographic areas where the duplex gap is subject to impairment. We invite interested parties to comment on this tentative conclusion in MB Docket No. 15-146."

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) previously asked for an extension in the comment period on the commission's proposal to preserve one TV channel for use by TV white space devices and wireless microphones following the broadcast spectrum incentive auction. The issue of available spectrum for unlicensed uses and wireless microphones is closely connected to the question of whether, and in how many markets, the commission elects to relocate television stations in the duplex gap following the auction, the NAB argued.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the commission has established clear rules for unlicensed devices and wireless microphones in the 600 MHz band, including the duplex gap and guard bands, that also protect and create certainty and protections for the licensed users, including broadcasters and future 600 MHz band licensees.

Wireless medical telemetry services (WMTS) and radio astronomy services (RAS) will continue to have interference protection on Channel 37, while unlicensed users gain access to the channel in areas where WMTS and RAS are not using it. Wireless microphones, both licensed and unlicensed, will be able to operate in the 600 MHz band duplex gap and guard bands, and continue to operate in the 600 MHz wireless band during the post-auction transition period, Wheeler said in a statement after the commission's vote on the rules earlier this month.

In comments prior to the vote, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) raised concerns particularly of the situation in Los Angeles, where personal/portable white space devices may not be able to operate on channels 14 through 21 in the most populated parts of the Partial Economic Area due to public safety operations in the T-band and corresponding exclusion zones. Microsoft also pointed out that if white space devices can't operate in much of the LA market -- the second largest urban market in the U.S. -- it could undermine marketing efforts for white-space technologies.

For more:
- see this CommLawBlog post
- see this FCC order
- see this TVTechnology article

Related articles:
AT&T, NAB, others decry FCC's move to release more 600 MHz white spaces spectrum for unlicensed use
NAB offers compromise on duplex guard band plan
Unlikely allies fight plan to move TV stations into duplex gap
Wheeler gives shout-out to unlicensed spectrum, sharing