National Translator Association blasts Microsoft’s TV White Space plan

rural (Pixabay)
NTA is a nonprofit service organization representing rural TV translator operators.

Joining the chorus of folks opposed to Microsoft’s White Space plan is the National Translator Association, which points to Hurricane Harvey disaster relief work as a clear example of why free over-the-air TV stations should not be "destroyed" by the Rural Airband Initiative.

“The response of free over-the-air television stations and their translators to the Harvey hurricane disaster with on-the-scene reporting, emergency information, and fund raising for disaster relief are ample indicators free-over-the-air television is America’s first choice for information. This should not be replaced with Microsoft’s 'white space,'” said NTA President John Terrill in a press release.

Microsoft argues that its Rural Airband Initiative will invest in partnerships with telecom companies to use white spaces and other technologies to provide broadband to 2 million people in rural areas by July 2022. Because affordability is key to the success of TV White Space (TVWS) technologies in unserved areas, it's essential that sufficient spectrum be available nationwide for use on a nonexclusive unlicensed basis, without the fees normally associated with exclusive use licensing, the company says. 

Microsoft also has said that three channels must be made available in each market to facilitate the mass-market adoption of the technology and that channels can be made available nationwide on an unlicensed basis with no impact at all on full-power broadcasters, no impact on low-power broadcasters in the vast majority of the United States and only a “de minimis” impact on low-power broadcasters in a few areas.

But NTA is having none of it. “Microsoft describes the spaces between full power TV stations as so-called vacant channels. NTA does not know anyone else who calls these channels ‘vacant.’ Currently they are occupied by 3,776 licensed UHF and VHF translator stations, and 1,968 licensed UHF and VHF Low Power TV stations (Broadcast Station Totals as of June 30, 2017,” the group said.

The NTA says affected industries and the public are just starting to recognize the adverse effect of the TV spectrum repacking on Low Power Television (LPTV) stations and television translators from the recent incentive auction, and it's becoming clear that sufficient spectrum will not be available for LPTV and TV translators to survive the displacement.

NTA members are local governments, TV districts and not-for-profit organizations relaying free big city television programming to rural areas beyond the major network coverage areas. The group says it’s receiving calls from anguished TV operators and statewide service providers to find channels they need for the repack.

RELATED: NAB, tech industry throw down over TV white spaces

A bipartisan coalition of 43 Congressional representatives asked the FCC earlier this summer to reserve at least three TV white space channels in the 600 MHz band to support rural broadband deployments—a plan first proposed by Microsoft.

As the FCC nears a vote on the issue, support from the tech industry has poured in. TechNet, a bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives, urged the FCC to address the outstanding issues as soon as possible and take the final regulatory steps needed to provide regulatory certainty and allow operators to fulfill the potential of TVWS technology, while Voices for Innovation, a community of more than 90,000 technology professionals and consumers, also wrote (PDF) to the FCC to “strongly urge the [commission] to preserve three TV white spaces channels in every market in the nation that can be used to carry innovative broadband technology.”

But the NTA is not the only group concerned about the ramifications. When it first opened the TVWS debate in 2008, the FCC vowed to protect TV signals and wireless mics from interference, saying all devices will be subject to approval by the FCC laboratory. There are also TVWS databases that regulate available signals to make sure they don’t overlap with other occupants of the spectrum. The National Association of Broadcasters has consistently said that these efforts don’t guarantee clear channels for TV stations.