Flaws in TV White Space Database Make It Practically Useless to Broadcasters


The explosive growth in the internet of things over the past few years could end up causing major headaches for broadcasters. The internet of things refers to the growing trend of connecting everyday devices, such as refrigerators, wristwatches, cars, and gas meters, to the internet. While the internet of things allows the collection of data on an unprecedented scale, that data collection requires connectivity, and much of that connectivity relies on wireless spectrum.

As a result, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) has devoted significant resources to clearing spectrum for use by wireless providers and other Internet-enabled users. The Commission has also encouraged spectrum sharing to encourage more efficient use of the limited spectrum available. To that end, the Commission has been exploring the shared use of “TV white spaces” since 2002.

TV white space refers to frequencies allocated to TV broadcasters but not used in a geographic area. It includes guard bands, areas left unassigned for adjacent channel protection, and any other unused frequencies in the TV band. As part of the Commission’s push to promote spectrum sharing, it adopted rules allowing devices to operate using these frequencies on an unlicensed basis, as long as those devices do not interfere with licensed use by broadcasters. To protect TV broadcasters from interference, the Commission authorized third-party administrators to create a TV white space database, so developers can determine where TV white space is available and register their devices’ locations. If interference does occur, broadcasters can theoretically locate the offending device(s) using the database.

However, a recent analysis of the TV white space database by the National Association of Broadcasters (“NAB”) revealed a number of clearly inaccurate or suspect entries in the database. For example, NAB discovered that many white space users provided obviously inaccurate contact information, making it difficult to resolve interference complaints if they arise. Of even more concern, the NAB discovered a number of registrations with clearly incorrect location information, including one registration listing a location 500 miles off the coast of Cameroon and another just outside Quito, Ecuador.   

On March 19, 2015, NAB filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC requesting that it resolve the issues with the TV white space database. The petition requests that the FCC:

  • Suspend operation of the database until the information in the database has been corrected and the Commission can better verify the information of new entries;
  • Require TV white space device manufacturers to include geolocation capabilities in all devices;
  • Create rules that require accurate data input, require database administrators to conduct periodic audits and report their findings to the FCC, and require database administrators to take responsibility for correcting false or inaccurate information; and
  • Postpone a recently released Notice of Proposed Rulemaking considering other modifications expanding the TV white space regime, pending the resolution of NAB’s petition.

Potentially compounding the inaccuracies in the TV white space database is Chairman Wheeler’s plan to cut the number of field offices and agents the Commission has by more than half. The Commission’s field offices play an important role in tracking down harmful interference. And, as spectrum sharing continues to increase, the potential for disputes over interference may rise too, making the loss of field agents to track down harmful interference even more problematic.

If you would like to learn more about the FCC’s TV white space database, the planned cutbacks to FCC field offices, or NAB’s petition for rulemaking regarding the TV white space database, please contact Nate Hardy: njh@commlawgroup.com – 703-714-1322 or Seth Williams: slw@commlawgroup.com – 703-714-1326.

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