NAB Calls Microsoft’s White Space Plan “Nonsense”

UHF white spaces, the unlicensed frequencies between television channels, are the latest flash point between broadcasters and other industries. Microsoft supports the Commission’s proposal to preserve one UHF “white space” channel in each market now that TV broadcasters are transitioning into the channel repack post-auction. It urges the FCC to do that immediately and not wait until final TV channel assignments are made, saying the issue is vital to “support investment by semiconductor and device makers and to enable broadband internet access for rural and underserved Americans.”

Broadcasters disagree, saying acting now would cut-off channel options for potentially scores of stations, especially in New Mexico, Utah, and the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

Microsoft counters the FCC doesn’t need to preserve the same white space channel nationwide, just one in each market. The company cites 1,000 computer simulations per market that it says shows doing so “would have no impact” on any full-power station and “minimal” impact on LPTV stations “even in the “worst-case scenarios,” in a filing describing lobbying efforts.  

NAB this week called the Microsoft proposal “suspicious” and “nonsense” and urged the FCC to wait. “The post-auction repack is essentially a game of musical chairs for displaced low power stations. Microsoft is telling the Commission: (1) it needs to have a chair reserved for unlicensed use, but that (2) there will be no effect from that reservation on anyone else. One of those assertions is untrue,” said NAB VP Spectrum Policy Patrick McFadden in a blog post.

Without regulatory certainty, Microsoft says companies like itself and its partners can’t increase investment, produce equipment at scale, and drive down prices to levels that allow pervasive nationwide availability of white space devices, technologies, and broadband access. Of this, NAB mentions the recently-completed TV spectrum auction. “If Microsoft were interested in increasing investment, it had an unprecedented opportunity to get guaranteed access to 600 MHz spectrum with a nationwide footprint. Instead, Microsoft is trying to convince the Commission to give Microsoft a backdoor frequency allocation with exclusive access to that spectrum for free, and on better terms than winning auction bidders received.”

The TV White Spaces database has around 800 devices total across the nation, notes McFadden. Based on the number of test devices and the locations of the registered devices, NAB estimates that less than 300 are actually providing internet service to homes.

July 7, 2017

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