In its continuing efforts to promote efficient use of spectrum and extend the benefits of such use to the public, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a Second Report and Order (Second R&O) that establishes rules to allow new, sophisticated wireless devices to operate in broadcast television spectrum on a secondary basis at locations where that spectrum is open, also known as “white spaces.”

The rules will permit the use of these new and innovative types of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to provide broadband data and other services for consumers and businesses. They also represent a careful first step to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces with numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference.

Furthermore, the rules will allow for both fixed and personal/portable unlicensed devices. Such devices must include a geolocation capability and provisions to access over the Internet a database of the incumbent services, such as full-power and low-power TV stations and cable system headends, in addition to spectrum-sensing technology. The database will tell the white-space device what spectrum may be used at that location.

Wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways. The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the database and will be protected in the same way as other services. Also, white-space devices will have to be able to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection.

All white-space devices are subject to equipment certification by the FCC Laboratory, which will request samples of the devices for testing to ensure they meet all the pertinent requirements. The FCC also will permit certification of devices that do not include the geolocation and database access capabilities, instead relying solely on spectrum sensing to avoid causing harmful interference, subject to a much more rigorous approval process.

Applications will be released for public comment prior to agency action. The FCC Laboratory will test such devices to a “Proof of Performance” standard both in the lab and in a variety of real-world environments to ensure they do not interfere with licensed services when in use. The staff report and recommendation will also be released for public comment.

For now, certification of any such device will require approval by the full FCC. Manufacturers may continue to provide additional information to the FCC to support the use of higher-power devices in adjacent channels. In addition, the FCC will explore in a separate Notice of Inquiry whether higher-powered unlicensed operations might be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.

The FCC will closely oversee and monitor the introduction of TV white-space devices. It additionally will act promptly to remove from the market any equipment found to be causing harmful interference and require the responsible parties to take appropriate actions to remedy any interference that may occur.


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