Microsoft garners support for TV white space reforms

Microsoft building
Microsoft is asking the FCC to launch a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make a set of improvements to its white space device rules. (radub85/iStockPhoto)

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, Tribal Digital Village and the Gigabit Libraries Network are among those submitting comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC ) in favor of Microsoft’s petition for rulemaking on TV white spaces (TVWS).

Comments came in Monday in response to Microsoft’s May 3 filing (PDF) that proposed changes to various rules that would, if adopted, enable TV white space spectrum to be more efficiently and effectively deployed for rural broadband access, according to WISPA.

WISPA represents the interests of wireless internet service providers (WISPs) that provide high-speed fixed wireless broadband services to customers across the country. Over the years, WISPA has been an ardent advocate for the allocation of TV white space spectrum as another tool for its members to use to deploy fixed wireless services to consumers in rural areas.

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TVWSs are unused blocks of broadcast spectrum located between the frequencies assigned to television stations. A TVWS can be used to create wireless broadband connections over long distances and in rugged terrain, with no line of sight.

In particular, WISPA told the commission (PDF) it supports the petition’s call to permit fixed devices to operate at higher maximum power in less congested areas; permit use of spectrum adjacent to TV broadcast channels at power levels greater than 40 mW; and allow TV white space devices to transmit from a height above average terrain (HAAT) of up to 500 meters, subject to coordination for operations above 250 meters HAAT.  WISPA also asked the FCC to invite comment on a proposal to allow greater flexibility to use sectorized antennas.

“These changes would increase the range and capacity of TVWS networks, boosting investment in the development and deployment of new broadband solutions for rural Americans,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA, in a prepared statement.  “These proposals, and related technical changes WISPA asked the FCC to consider, will help put this still fallow resource into productive use, providing more broadband quickly and cost-effectively across the nation.” 

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One of the biggest critics of Microsoft’s plan for TV white spaces has been the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), but earlier this year (PDF), the NAB told the FCC that after several months of conversations with Microsoft, it could agree on certain—but not all—changes that Microsoft was proposing.

For its part, New America’s Open Technology Institute and its partner public interest organizations (PIOs) support the full range of rule changes proposed in Microsoft’s petition, and it said one indication that the rule updates can be enacted and put to work for rural America is the NAB’s support for several of the reforms. The changes that NAB supports would go a long way to empower rural providers, schools, farms and utilities to extend connectivity in high-cost areas where the business case for other forms of fixed wireline or even wireless service have proved daunting, according to the PIOs.

The Wi-Fi Alliance agrees (PDF) that the FCC should issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the changes proposed by Microsoft and other potential modifications to the rules governing white space devices.

Microsoft didn’t ask the commission to seek comment on new methodologies for interference calculation, but the Wi-Fi Alliance said this topic should be considered in the context of proposed higher power white space device operations in the first adjacent channel. Since the commission last fully evaluated its white space device rules in 2014, there have been significant advances in cloud computing, and white space databases are cloud-based.

The alliance is urging the commission to seek comment on the use of terrain-based models to calculate minimum white space device separation distances and whether this will allow greater use of white spaces while continuing to fully protect incumbents.