I gotta admire the broadcasters (as represented by their trade orgs, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV)). Even with the facts completely against them, they never give up trying. Sadly, they all too often succeed through a combination of heavy duty lobbying power (what politician doesn’t suck up to his or her local broadcaster?) and the fact that most decision makers don’t know squat about engineering and regard the whole thing as black magic. Heck, it worked to hamstring low-power FM (LPFM) radio, despite a subsequent independent government report showing the broadcaster interference claims were unsubstantiated bologna.
But embracing radio pirates by proposing to expand the availability of wireless microphones in the broadcast white spaces for their political allies and tacitly agreeing to amnesty for illegal wireless microphone users? Even I never thought they would go that far.
So let me get this straight, NAB, a million unauthorized mobile wireless microphone users operating “dumb” transmitters at higher power don’t cause interference. But smart devices, identical to those relied upon by the U.S. military to share frequencies with unlicensed devices, operating at much lower power and required to use a geolocational database, do cause interference? Wow, that makes so much sense. I can see why NAB and MSTV did not include any actual engineering analysis with their comments.
Personally, I think that if spectrum sensing and “smart radio” is good enough to protect the lives of American soldiers, we can trust it to protect viewers of American Idol. But I do not expect the broadcasters to let a piddly little thing like reality stop them — especially when using false interference claims and blatantly bogus evidence made it possible to clip the wings of the fledging low-power FM (LPFM) radio service back in 2000 (more details on the Prometheus Radio website LPFM fact sheet).
Still, I never thought I would actually lie to see the day the NAB would embrace unauthorized users, utterly reverse everything it ever said about the need to restrict access to the broadcast bands, and walk away from the more than 1 million unauthorized users in the band. Mind, you’d think that after a five year proceeding marked by such shenanigans as giving themselves free air time to push bogus interference concerns onto the public, adorable made up videos that purport to be real like Your Neighbor’s Static (aka “white spaces Reefer Madness), and the ”experiment we refuse to explain so you can’t check the results,“ the NAB would have already shot its credibility beyond all hope of recovery. But since no one not obsessed with this proceeding pays much attention to it, the NAB and friends gets to rerun the same bogus claims over and over and over again.
On the plus side, I hope my friends at Prometheus Radio are taking notes for when they make another run at Congress next year (or even this year in a lame duck session) to get the Local Community Broadcasters Act passed and get the shackles based on the broadcasters’ bogus ”interference concerns” lifted. After all, if the NAB doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about interference from unauthorized users anymore and is willing to embrace unauthorized operators, Congress should take them at their word.
More below . . .
To recap for those just joining us. More than five years ago, the FCC proposed allowing “smart” radios to use the unused channels in the broadcast band (the “broadcast white spaces”) for very low-power unlicensed use. Now, after five years, tens of thousands of pages of submissions, lab tests, field tests, examination of “proof of concept” prototypes, etc., etc. the Office of Engineering and Technology issued an extensive report concluding that yes, the prototypes demonstrated that the underlying concepts are valid, the technology is ready for prime time, and OET feels confident that it can propose rules that will protect legally operating services from interference and still produce useful white spaces device. The OET proposed significantly reduced power levels on channels adjacent to active television channels to protect viewers from interference, imposed strict power limits on devices that rely only on sensing active channels rather than on a combination of sensing and a database. All in all, a well-balanced and exhaustive piece of work.
So, of course the broadcasters have done what they can to throw up as much crap as possible to see what will stick. Most of this goes back to the old trick of deliberately confusing the difference between “prototype testing” and certification. Of course the prototypes did not perform like certified devices, they are prototypes built to prove basic concepts. How on Earth could anyone actually build devices that comply with the proposed rules developed by prototype testing? But this little bit of reality checking has not prevented broadcasters and their allies from rushing to proclaim each field test a “failure” before the test was over.
Now comes this last ditch effort to delay a vote on rules by calling for yet another round of comments. Sure, the FCC engaged in an unprecedented amount of open testing, published its results (which it is not required to do), and allowed any member of the public to file comments before the proposed Commission vote. If NAB has anything worth saying, it can file whatever the heck it wants and parties will respond. What would another “Public Notice” on top of last week’s Public Notice do? Answer: nada, zero, zilch, in terms of substance. But plenty in terms of needless delay.
The NAB understands that if it can delay a vote, it can run out the clock until its wholly owned subsidiaries in Congress come back from campaigning, create more fuss, and generally delay things until the next Administration and a new FCC. At a minimum, that would buy the broadcasters another 6 months to a year of delay. And who knows? Perhaps the next FCC will be more broadcaster friendly and they will manage to spike the whole deal. But one thing is certain, if the FCC goes to a vote and approves rules on November 4, that’s the ball game. Yes, the NAB can try to get a lame-duck Congress to pass something in the dead of night, the way the did to seriously hamper low-power FM back in 2000. But with a solid collection of tech allies and a far more organized public interest movement in existence today than in 2000, getting a positive FCC vote repealed by Congressional fiat in a lame duck session would be a very high hurdle. So in football terms, it’s an effort to try to run out the clock with a very ugly, aggressive defense. It doesn’t matter how much mud NAB kicks up, as long as they can stop the process one more time.
But even I never guessed that, to hold their coalition together long enough to make this happen, broadcasters would break with their long tradition of fighting any new entrants into the broadcast band and embrace radio pirates. Specifically, this set of comments over here in the proceeding on wireless microphones. Not only do the broadcasters manage to ignore the fact that over a million unauthorized users ae using “their” spectrum illegally, they actually embrace opening the white spaces for their current politically-useful buddies on Broadway, in churches, in government and in the music industry!
My, my, my . . . . and when I think of how the same broadcasters were so utterly insistent on inserting a clause in the Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act of 2000 that prohibited anyone who ever engaged in radio broadcasting without a license “in violation of Section 301” of the Communications Act because it was sooo absolutely critical to send a message about the importance of respecting FCC licensing rules . . . . Well, I knew the broadcasters had no shame, but really — such naked political opportunism and hypocrisy while simultaneously trying to make a case that your engineering data is more credible than that of the FCC? As our true guiding light and sage of the age Stephen Colbert would say, that takes the kind of huevos grandes that wins you an award as Alpha Dog of the Week.
And I do hope my friends in the LPFM movement are taking notes. Because while it sadly looks like yet another year will go by without passage of the Local Community Broadcasters Act — which would undo the restrictions placed on LPFM by the broadcasters back in 2000.
Ah broadcasters, eternally shameless — but hopefully not eternally triumphant. Leaving aside my general preference to see truth triumph over bullcrap, the white spaces is simply too valuable to be endlessly delayed by con artists with an unlimited budget. Rural providers like the Mountain Area Information Network and inner city providers like Wireless Harlem need access to the white spaces to bring broadband access to those who need it most.
Stay tuned . . . .