NAB "spindoctoring" on whitespace

NAB "spindoctoring" on whitespace

Summary: Last month, the FCC rejected a proposal backed by Microsoft, Dell and Google that would have used "white space" spectrum to provide Internet service at speeds between 50-100 mbps. White space is purposefully unused spectrum that exists to prevent interference between broadcasting channels.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Browser
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Last month, the FCC rejected a proposal backed by Microsoft, Dell and Google that would have used "white space" spectrum to provide Internet service at speeds between 50-100 mbps. White space is purposefully unused spectrum that exists to prevent interference between broadcasting channels. It's on interference grounds that the FCC opted to reject the proposal, though FCC Chairman Kevin Martin left open the option for the "White Spaces Coalition" to respond to their issues.

It's apparently on those grounds, or fears that politicians might force the issue as a way to "democratize" the spectrum in ways WiFi has democratized short-distance Internet access, that the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) sicced their spin-doctors on the subject in hopes of convincing (or rather, confusing) people into fearing a white space Internet. Quoting from a recent article on the subject on BetaNews:

"Interference is not acceptable to our viewers. While our friends at Intel, Google and Microsoft may find system errors, computer glitches and dropped calls tolerable, broadcasters do not," NAB chairman Alan Frank said. "Consumers know that computers unexpectedly shut down. TVs don't. TVs work and people expect them to work."

You got to love marketers with their knack for linking completely unrelated issues together. To be fair, NAB spindoctors have a hard path to walk as they try to convince consumers of the dangers of a white space Internet when most haven't a clue what in the heck it is. That's why they must resort to images of televisions exploding, taking a page from drug companies who tried to scare people away from cheaper foreign pharmacies by stoking fears that someone might "slip a mickey" into a drug prescription.

Interference is certainly a cause for concern which might legitimately block use of white space spectrum for Internet use. I suspect, however, that the NAB would still oppose use of such spectrum even if all interference issues have been resolved, as they have a vested interest in NOT providing a new avenue through which to provide broadcast signals.

You can cram a lot of media content into a 50-100 mbit Internet connection, which would pose serious competition to traditional television and radio broadcasting. Cable companies have tried to block IPTV competition by endeavoring to force the competitive upstart to negotiate town by town for broadcasting licenses, making a nationwide rollout that much more expensive. Blocking white space Internet service altogether would be longer lasting as a barrier to competition.

Microsoft, Dell and Google would love to remove the broadcaster middleman and offer high-resolution media signals over IP. Broadcasters want to do everything in their power to prevent that from happening. That means broadcasters need to cultivate negative impressions of a white space Internet service unrelated to the technical merits of the technology "just in case." If grandma is terrified she won't be able to see her "stories," politicians just might listen.

It's hard to convince people that they don't want competition. The NAB, however, is going to give it the boy scout try.

Topics: Hardware, Browser

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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7 comments
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  • About right

    Now if the NAB can make a reasonable case that granting the spectrum in question would make their own services significantly less reliable (interference, etc) and explain how (ie. make a technical case, instead of relying on demagoguery and spin), then their position will merit more respect; otherwise, the FCC should ignore them and accept the proposal.

    DSL uses phone line frequences not employed by POTS, but the vendor also has to provide a phone line splitter/filter to make it work. Can't really expect everyone to put filters on their TVs and radios.
    John L. Ries
  • Ironic, isn't it

    It's ironic, but not too long ago, the broadcasters
    and cable operators themselves used the vertical blanking
    interval (the thick black bar you see when you twiddle
    with the vertical hold control of your TV set) for
    one-way communications. This technology was called
    videotext, and 2-way trials were even held. This was a
    perhaps a decade before the Internet.

    If I'm not mistaken, the "white space" is supposed to be
    unlicensed/unregulated, therefore "free" spectrum, like
    the 2.4 GHz spectrum used by WiFi. So the NAB shouldn't
    really be able to block the Microsoft, Google et al consortium.

    Unless, of course, there's interference to adjacent licensed,
    regulated spectrum, which I assume, would be the new spectrum
    allotted to the broadcasters for over the air digital TV (the
    broadcasters are supposed to be giving up the old spectrum,
    below 1 GHz, which will be (if it hasn't already) auctioned off.

    As the data rate is not very high (50-100 mbps), the frequency
    must not be very high, likely below 5 GHz.

    But the NAB can only block things for so long. I mean, there's
    other frequencies that are available. I read somewhere that in
    the really, really high frequencies, which may also be
    unlicensed/unregulated, a university (Georgia?) has
    demonstrated high speed communications.
    rosanlo
    • White Space

      White space is what we refer to as a "guard band" between channels (and a channel in this context is simply the frequency spectrum between a lower and upper bounded bounded frequencies. See "guard band" in Wikipedia.

      And "white space" is highly regulated - it is not like the unlicensed band which is occupied by WiFi.

      What the NAB is "rightly" concerned about is adjacent channel interference, which is a bugaboo with older analog NTSC receivers. But with the transition to the 8-VSB modulation scheme used by ATSC, and the new next-generation digital receivers in new digital TV sets, their point is moot and even disingenuous.
      NetArch.
  • Increased competition?

    The internet is already a (mostly ineffective) competitor with radio and television. How would adding to the ability to carry internet programming make a difference?

    From the Comment:

    "You can cram a lot of media content into a 50-100 mbit Internet connection, which would pose serious competition to traditional television and radio broadcasting."

    So long as the connection is internet, and not additional channels which would appear on cable boxes, why would this have an effect?


    That the PR (not marketing) people have complained shows there must be some potential effect being taken seriously. Though these are the same people who announce that file-sharing reduces rather than helps sales.

    They may be wrong again, but what are they worried about?
    Anton Philidor
    • IPTV and Internet Radio.

      Anser to what NAB does not want.
      ShadeTree
      • Seen it, heard it.

        Not to be (excessively) facetious, but what's new?
        Anton Philidor
  • Based on my experience NAB might have a point

    Based on my own experience in the New York area, interference has already degraded many TV signals to useless. More and more radio waves in the air really screwed things up. I only live 25 miles from Manhattan and 12 miles from Kennedy Airport.

    For about 20 years, I could watch tv just fine with rabbit ears. Eventually, the lower channels and the uhf channels degraded. Went to a big roof mount antenna. Things worked till about 2000. Then the lower channels and uhf eventually went. There was a time when I could not watch channel 2 (WCBS). Channel 4 was all fuzzed up. UHF channels didn?t work. I had to get basic cable to watch tv.

    I moved about 10 miles from my old home 3 years ago. In this house, basically no broadcast works. I pay about $20 per month for ?basic broadcast? cable just to watch broadcast tv. Nobody in my neighborhood bothers with antennas, because they can?t get reception.

    PS: My wife and I don't watch that much tv so fancier cable offerings are of no interest. If we could watch it over the air, we'd dump the cable.
    j.m.galvin