As folks may recall, the primary opponents of opening the broadcast white spaces for use, the broadcasters and the wireless microphone manufacturers — notably our good friend and radio pirate Shure, Inc. (official slogan:“We get to break the law ’cause we sound so good”) — insisted that the FCC conduct field tests on the white spaces prototypes. Of course, because these are concept prototypes and not functioning devices certified to some actual standard, everyone knew this would leave lots of leeway for the broadcasters and the wireless microphone folks to declare the “tests” a “failure” regardless of the actual results. Which, of course, they did. Needless to say, Phillips (which makes one of the prototypes) said the opposite, and it all depends on whether you mean “the device functioned perfectly as if there were actually some standards for building a functioning device” or “the device proved it could detect occupied channels at whatever sensitivity the FCC decides is necessary.” The FCC engineers, wisely, made no comment and went back to their labs to analyze the actual data.
But one of the nice things about field testing is that you learn the most amazing things that you can never learn in a lab, as demonstrated by this ex parte filed by Ed Thomas for the White Spaces Coalition, the industry group that backs opening the white spaces. Apparently, in front of eye witnesses (including the FCC’s engineers), both broadcasters and unauthorized wireless microphone users in the Broadway field test operated wireless microphones on active television channels, at power levels well above what white spaces advocates propose for mobile devices. All apparently without interfering with anybody’s television reception or even — in the case of the unauthorized Broadway users — screwing up the hundreds of other illegal wireless microphones in the neighboring theaters.
A few rather important take aways here: (1) the danger of interference claims by broadcasters and Shure are utterly bogus, as the wireless microphones do not screw up either television reception or each other; (b) the broadcasters and Shure know their interference claims are bogus. If they actually cared on iota about possible interference, they would not casually operate high power wireless microphones on the same channel as active television broadcasts and as each other. Instead, they are so unconcerned about interference that they can’t even remember to pretend to care about basic interference concerns when they are conducting a field test in front of the FCC’s own engineers.
A bit more elaboration on these points below . . . .
If they gave out regulatory Darwin Awards, the broadcasters and Shure would surely qualify after this. Think about it. You insist the FCC conduct field tests with your unauthorized users, you criticize them and heckle them throughout the testing, you try to hi-jack the results by loudly proclaiming the prototypes “failed” no matter what the actual result, and then you operate on occupied TV channels??? You think FCC engineers aren’t going to notice that you are full of crap when you claim to be terribly, terribly worried about how white spaces will destroy TV reception or bring down the Grand Ole Opry while you can’t even bother to practice the spectrum equivalent of “safe sex” with your own devices?
Lets unpack this here.
1) The Interference Claims Of Wireless Microphone Manufacturers And Broadcasters Are Bogus. First and most important the broadcasters and wireless microphone manufacturers have never actually provided proof that white spaces devices will cause interfere. What they’ve done is to spin out a lot of unsubstantiated worst case scenarios puffed up with some imaginary horror stories. Back in 2004, when the broadcasters submitted to the FCC what they claimed was a study showing that operating devices on the white spaces would blank out television sets. Except, as documented by New America Foundation, the supposed study turned out to be completely bogus — so much so that the broadcasters adamantly refused to explain what they had done to produce the results they claimed to get. As for the wireless microphone guys, the FCC determined back in its first Notice in 2004 that white space devices would not interfere with wireless microphones because of the differences in how these devices worked. While a wireless microphone might screw up a white spaces device, a white spaces device wouldn’t do jack to a wireless microphone, a situation familiar to anyone who has found their wifi hotspot is messed up by the cordless phone but not vice-versa.
So stuck without evidence of actual interference, the broadcasters and wireless microphone guys fell back on the old stand by of trying to make white spaces proponents prove a negative. When the MS prototype underperformed (worked in lab, did not detect all active channels in the field), broadcasters and Shure welcomed this gift of manna from heaven to make the conversation all about devices “passing” and “failing” (infinitely elastic terms).
But in demanding a field test, the broadcasters and Shure have now provided concrete evidence that white space devices will not interfere. Wireless microphones operate at higher power than that proposed for mobile white spaces devices. They do not have any of the sensing or other interference mitigation technology that broadcasters and Shure insist white spaces devices must have, lest they operate on a channel occupied by a live broadcast channel and screw up somebody’s reception or fail to sense an illegally operating wireless microphone. Nevertheless, broadcasters and Broadway folks using Shure equipment cheerfully blasted away (in direct violation of FCC rules) on occupied channels and NOTHING HAPPENED! No interference. No screwing up wireless microphones (authorized or unauthorized). On Broadway, they used dozens of wireless microphones, in the middle of a densely crowded urban environment, with hundreds of illegal undocumented wireless microphones operating in neighboring theaters, all blasting away without coordination. Yet nothing happened. No interference, no poor little grandma lost her television reception in her suburban home near FedEx Filed, nor did Broadway crash and burn from all those happy little dumb transmitters blasting away all over the RF landscape.
Hell, we couldn’t have proposed a better field test to prove that the power levels we want are safe. If a whole roomful of more powerful devices without any interference avoidance technology in the middle of downtown Manhattan operating on five different occupied channels and without coordination with the other devices doing the RF equivalent of a drunken chorus at 2 a.m. had absolutely ZERO impact on television reception or unauthorized wireless microphone use, our highly sensitive, cooperative lower-power device certainly won’t.
The Broadcasters and Shure Know They’re Interference Claims Are Bogus.
Lets go back to that part about how the broadcasters and Shure have never submitted any actual real evidence. That doesn’t necessarily make them lying hypocrites who know their grave concerns about possible interference are bull. They might simply be nervous licensees in fear of the worst. Do they really know they are full of crap?
Well, we now know the answer to this. Yes. There is no way either the broadcasters or Shure could operate with such cavalier disregard for the FCC’s interference rules if they were genuinely concerned about interference. The fact that they can do the equivalent of peeing all over the spectrum landscape with the happy unconscious abandon of toddlers or college students after their first beer bash shows that they understand very clearly that transmitters like this are no threat to either broadcast television or even unauthorized licensed use. They so routinely ignore even elementary safeguards against interference that they violate the FCC’s rules in the presence of a team of FCC engineers — and after someone has already filed a complaint against them.
Yes, I get that when you break the law as long as Shure has, you get a mindset. The fact that their “defense” to our complaint was “it’s the FCC’s fault for not changing the rules to make what we do legal, we don’t interfere, but keep white space competitors out because they will” indicates that these guys are not ‘thinking strategically.’ But to flaunt it in front of the FCC’s engineers, after you drag them out there for more ridiculous field tests that you intend to denounce as “failures” no matter what the actual result, has to rank pretty high in the “failure of judgment” category.
So What Now?
Well, we will have to see what the FCC does next. Shure and the broadcasters clearly think the FCC is in their back pocket. And, if all else fails, Broadcasters certainly know how to get members of Congress who do not follow these spectrum issues closely to write letters. I’m sure it does not escape Shure’s calculation that, being in Illinois, they count both Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Barack Obama as their state Senators.
But ya know, I really do not think that will cut it. All five FCC Commissioners have made it pretty clear that they intend to judge this one on the merits of the possible interference claims. Nor do I think any member of Congress, even in an election year, will want to stick his or her neck out for a scofflaw like Shure who is so moronic that they (a) drag the FCC engineers out for field testing, (b) flagrantly violate the FCC’s rules in a way that shows your interference worries are baseless, and then (c) are surprised that the FCC calls you on it.
I don’t expect the broadcasters or Shure to just roll over and give up, of course. I expect all manner of furious handwaving and shouting that the “devices failed” over and over again in the hopes of confusing the issue. It is, after all, the only strategy they have left. But the field test they demanded should settle the matter once and for all, although not the way they expected.
Stay tuned . . . .