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Deadline to Obtain Interference Protection From White Spaces Devices Just Days Away

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Last Fall, the FCC adopted final rules allowing Part 15 unlicensed Television Band Devices (TVBDs) to operate in “white spaces”, the slivers of unused spectrum in the television band. To find available slivers of spectrum, the TVBDs will consult a database that is intended to contain information about every use being made of TV spectrum throughout the United States. However, certain users of television spectrum have only until April 5, 2011, to ask the FCC to grant a waiver in order to be included in the interference protection database or risk debilitating interference.

Any facility, including a cable headend, satellite receive facility, TV translator, Class A television station, low power television station or broadcast auxiliary station, that picks up an over-the-air broadcast signal at a point located more than 80 kilometers outside the originating station’s protected contour must file a waiver request with the FCC by April 5, 2011 seeking to have that use included in the white spaces database and protected from interference.

At a later date, the FCC will allow users to register without a waiver those receive sites that are located within the 80 kilometer zone (but outside the station’s protected contour) for interference protection. They cannot do so now because the database is still being developed. In the meantime, waiver requests for locations located outside of the 80 kilometer zone must be filed now and should include the coordinates of the receive site, the call sign of the originating station received over-the-air, and an indication of how potential white space devices would disrupt existing service. According to the FCC, it will accept public comment on waiver requests prior to making a decision on whether or not to grant them.

As a result, any cable headend that has built a tower with a directional receive antenna to pick up particularly distant television station signals, or any broadcaster or TV translator that uses over-the-air signals or a UHF microwave backbone to connect a series of translator facilities, will be prevented from registering such sites outside the 80 kilometer zone unless they seek a waiver by the April 5 deadline. Unintended interference to a cable system’s ability to receive a television station’s signal could result in the television station being dropped from the cable system. Interference to a single link in a long microwave backbone could interrupt signal delivery to all sites further down the line.

While the 80 kilometer “no waiver” zone may seem large, one multiple system cable operator has already filed a waiver request with the FCC indicating that it has headends receiving over-the-air television signals outside that zone in eleven different locations spread across multiple states, including Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota. Thus, if a station is being carried by a far off cable or satellite system, it would be wise for cable and satellite operators as well as TV licensees to double check how and where the TV station’s signal is being received. For TV signals being picked up over-the-air more than 80 kilometers from their protected contour, a waiver request now will be required to ensure continued interference-free signal delivery.

Although receive sites located within the 80 kilometer zone do not face the April 5, 2011 waiver deadline, they will still be affected by the implementation of the white spaces database. Because the data that will be used to populate the database will be taken from the FCC’s existing records, it is important that parties review the data in the FCC’s databases to make sure it is accurate to avoid potential interference from future white space operations.

In January, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) conditionally designated nine companies as white-space device database administrators: Comsearch, Frequency Finder Inc., Google Inc., KB Enterprises LLC/LS Telcom, Key Bridge Global LLC, Neustar Inc., Spectrum Bridge Inc., Telcordia Technologies, and WSdb LLC. The FCC held a training session for these entities earlier this month. Thus, the rollout of these databases will soon be at hand. OET recently stated that it intends to “exercise strong oversight of the TV bands databases and administrators.” That said, parties should still exercise their own diligence in reviewing the FCC’s databases, registering receive sites, and applying for any needed waivers if they want to avoid interference problems down the road.