In the never-ending saga of the FCC seeking new ways to furthercongest the airwaves, the end of 2002 saw a Notice of Inquiry thatcould once again create havoc for some spectrum users. While the latestissue doesn't carry the same potential effect to radio as the creationof LPFM, it is broad enough that it could lead to similarencroachment.
Based on the work of an FCC spectrum-policy task force formed inJune, Chairman Michael Powell indicated his intention to look at thewasted spectrum that broadcasters occupy. In remarks made during avisit to the University of Colorado, Powell rejected the notion thatthere is not enough broadcast spectrum to go around. He cited FCC teststhat showed that there are many unused spectrum holes because a portionof the airwaves are used only at certain times. It is in these times ofnon-use that the space could be better utilized.
In the quest to reclaim this vast emptiness that exists, the FCCplanned to review its own policies and move beyond its 90-year-oldspectrum-management methods. Funny, did basic physics change at somepoint? The FCC believes that new technology can be used to buildsmarter receivers that can filter the interference. While there hasbeen work done to build smarter receivers, it's not that simple.
In the same address Powell stated that one of the FCC's coremissions is to prevent broadcasts from interfering with one another,and then added that this mission needs to be revised. The FCC is lessinterested in managing the spectrum than ever before. Now all they wantto do is sell it again and again and let the buyer figure out how tomake it work.
In the middle of December, the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiryseeking comments on creating new unlicensed spectrum to meet thegrowing demand from consumers. This comes as no surprise; after all,the FCC knows that the airwaves are already underused. It is surprisingthat this covers unlicensed spectrum: there will be no revenue fromlicensing.
Where are they looking? Not in the AM and FM bands — at leastnot yet — but it is an area close to our concern. The Noticeseeks comments on the feasibility of allowing unlicensed devices tooperate in the TV broadcast spectrum at times and in locations whenspectrum is not being used. This is further complicated by the DTVtransition that occupies twice as much spectrum during the transitionperiod.
The notice also seeks comments on the feasibility of permittingunlicensed devices to operate in other bands, such as the 3.650GHz to3.7GHz band. While this is not the radio broadcast band, it isregularly used for radio. You know it better as C-band. The noticesuggests allowing unlicensed use of power levels higher than otherunlicensed transmitters with only the minimal technical requirementsnecessary to prevent interference to licensed services.
The “minimal technical requirements” part bothers me. Wealready have unlicensed use in many frequency bands. It is possible forlicensed use and unlicensed use to coexist peacefully. Unfortunately,if this notice proceeds to its full effect, there will be that muchmore hash in the same space. In my experience, unlicensed users do notunderstand interference issues. They won't coordinate the use of thefrequency or find a less-congested area. Instead they will find ways toturn up the power.
It's not open season yet, but this does present the potential forincreased terrestrial interference from a cordless phone or wirelesshome LAN.
10 YEARS OF RADIO
This year marks the 10th year that Radio magazine has beendelivering the most useful and accurate information on radio broadcasttechnology. Our industry has changed significantly in the past 10years, and we will highlight these changes throughout 2003. Look forthese special features in the coming months.
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