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United States

FCC Considers Expanding Unlicensed Spectrum 172

Syntari writes "Reuters is reporting that the US Federal Communications Commission has begun to seek comment (the first step in promulgating regulations) "on whether unlicensed devices, like wireless home networks for Internet service, could operate on television broadcast airwaves in areas where they are not being used or at times when the spectrum lay fallow". The news release by the FCC itself, in MS-Word format, is online. This is pretty big, as these things go - especially since television spectrum, being of a wavelength that easily penetrates walls and is not overly affected by rain or snow, is ideal for wireless services. Should any slashdotter actually want to submit a comment (gasp! could it be?), read this first (FCC's rules on electronic comment submission), and then go here."
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FCC Considers Expanding Unlicensed Spectrum

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    What about the waves that alien and government mind control signals are being broadcast on?
  • by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:09AM (#4870340) Journal
    Please try to avoid sending the FCC your comments such as, "F1RST P05T!!#@!" and "Imagine a Beowulf cluster of unlicensed spectrum". I'm also pretty sure that the FCC is uninterested on what's happening in Soviet Russia.
  • by InterruptDescriptorT ( 531083 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:10AM (#4870345) Homepage
    Unlicensing the spectrum, in these times of budget deficits and an impending war, doesn't seem like a good idea fiscally.

    When the UHF TV spectrum for channels 69-83 was removed in favour of fixed mobile communications over a decade ago, the bidding brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to the US government. With the burgeoning demand for wireless devices that is growing even in this fallow economy, where is the benefit to the country's coffers in unlicensing the spectrum?

    Is it that perhaps this will spur new R&D in wireless devices and protocols to use this new spectrum, returning value to the economy this way? Or is there something I'm missing?

    Please don't get me wrong: I am not necessarily in favour of the spectrum being one big free-for-all unlicensed hodgepodge, but I wonder why Congress hasn't stepped in and seen this as an idea to raise funds.
    • Congress isn't going to lose money from this, and new R&D in wireless devices might actually help the economy.. I doubt it but it's possible, especially if it was something major.
      • Well, actually, they would lose money if it was unlicensed.

        A good bit of the budget surplus was predicted based off the auctioning of the current analog TV spectrum in 2006 (which was the original sunset date for analog broadcasts since HD was supposed to be prevelent by then -- not that 2006 was ever a reasonable goal). If a portion of that spectrum is released to unlicensed usage then it's unlikely that it will be auctioned off in the future, which is a future shortfall in revenue.

        Whether or not you agree with the auctioning, or the amounts that were predicted is secondary. The plan was to sell it, and so not selling it will be a loss of money on paper.

        As you (and others) have said, however, it could lead to an improved economy, and that's worth considerably more in the long run than a one-time auction.
    • by {tele}machus_*1 ( 117577 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:18AM (#4870404) Journal
      I'm confused by your comment. Do you mean that the spectrum should not be unlicensed, because licensing makes gobs of money? If so, keep in mind that when spectrum is licensed, only those with gobs of money can afford it. Remember about two years ago when the FCC decided to expand the spectrum for amateur radio stations and lower the barriers to home radio broadcasting? Then all the big money radio conglomerates (and, yes, even NPR) stepped up their lobbying and Congress shot the whole thing down. I commend the FCC for continuing to try to make the spectrum available to the people who supposedly own it: the public, i.e., all of us. If the FCC is actually able to successfully unlicense this spectrum, just think about the potential for expanded home-brewed WiFi networks. Users could actually begin to successfully challenge the telecom monopolies and get the service we want.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:34AM (#4871745)
        If the FCC is actually able to successfully unlicense this spectrum, just think about the potential for expanded home-brewed WiFi networks. Users could actually begin to successfully challenge the telecom monopolies and get the service we want.

        This could have potentially disastrous consequences! Allowing people unlicensed access to broadcast their speech over the airwaves could destroy the American way of life as we know it! You can't just let Joe Shmoe come along and say whatever they want over the air, it's unheard of. Without a stabilizing force like a large multinational radio conglomerate or a liberal "public" national radio network pulling the strings people could present ideas that go against the mainstream media's views of the world. People would be extremely confused at who to believe when presented with multiple conflicting ideas.

      • Licensing made lots of money, but that was before the telecoms crash. All the big telecom companies have been in financial trouble for the past 2 years or so, and cannot afford to pay big money for new spectrum, even if they needed it (Almost all don't, they bought spectrum for 3G which they aren't using yet).
      • Users could actually begin to successfully challenge the telecom monopolies and get the service we want.


        Or maybe just produce so much noise nobody will be able use these frequencies for anything useful...

    • "Is it that perhaps this will spur new R&D in wireless devices and protocols to use this new spectrum, returning value to the economy this way? Or is there something I'm missing?"

      I think most Americans agree that creating a market to handle allocation of a scarce resource is a good (best?) way to use that resource efficiently. This has been the usual thinking when it comes to auctioning spectrum - let the company that thinks it will make the most money (ie 'use') from owning the spectrum have the rights to it. But there is another line of thinking that advocates freeing up spectrum. If we could 'packet switch' spectrum, creating a commons where applications define its use (e.g. the 'end-to-end' architecture of the net), then new businesses could be built on top of this spectrum. That would generate more money in the long term than auctioning off the spectrum to *one* owner.
    • by imadork ( 226897 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:28AM (#4870484) Homepage
      When the UHF TV spectrum for channels 69-83 was removed in favour of fixed mobile communications over a decade ago, the bidding brought in hundreds of millions of dollars to the US government. With the burgeoning demand for wireless devices that is growing even in this fallow economy, where is the benefit to the country's coffers in unlicensing the spectrum?

      I thought the reason for the FCC's existence was to manage and regulate something that already belongs to the public. When determining how best to use this spectrum, the public's interest should be the biggest thing (some would say the only thing) taken into consideration. Using the spectrum as a cash cow should not.

      Spectrum was licensed for broadcast in the past because it was the most efficient use of the public resource. With the development of more wireless products that rely on the unlicensed band, as well as less dependance on analog TV channels, unlicensing spectrum may now be the most efficient use of it, from the public's perspective.

      Everyone can be a broadcaster now, in their own home, with minimum effort; thirty years ago, that was not the case. (There are always hobbyists, but that still takes up effort and time...). There is little value in locking up spectrum that can be more efficiently used by small-time "broadcasters".

      • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:59AM (#4870734) Homepage
        Excellent comment.

        That said, the spectrum is viewed as a cash cow now. And while I think Congress and the government in general is seriously overvaluing the airwaves, I'd be surprised if the FCC went with this plan. The FCC has been pretty deep in corporate pockets for the past 20 years, and the current board is even further from "public interest" than most. The only way I might see them going for it is if they happen to have stock in companies that would benefit from unlicensed wireless.

        Yeah, I'm a bit of a pessimist regarding the current board. Just too many shitty decisions (must carry not applying to HDTV on cable and telcos required to cut their own throats with DSL while not requiring the same of cable being the two biggest I can think of offhand).

        And while unlicensing spectrum sounds all fine and dandy, there still have to be a modicum of rules around it. I'd still want to see specified bands for particular purposes, otherwise you could have applications stepping all over one another (no... we haven't seen that at all in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Uh uh. No problems with cordless phones and wireless networks).

        As you say, there may be little value in locking up spectrum now, but I don't want Joe down the street using that unlicensed spectrum to broadcast his own public access TV channel while I'm trying to use it to surf the net.
    • by Rik van Riel ( 4968 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:55AM (#4870701) Homepage
      The question is, what is worth more to the american people: a piece of radio spectrum which is freely usable for everybody, or a one-time $10/person tax cut ?

      I'm pretty sure that the radio spectrum is worth a lot more, since it opens up a large amount of opportunities for new consumer devices and house&garden communication.

      In fact, if consumer devices show up I'm pretty sure the government would get more in sales tax on those devices than it would get if it sold off the spectrum.
      • But the govt. doesn't give a **** for the people, and the tax cuts aren't distributed evenly. It's more like $1,000,000 for the very rich, and $0.00 for everyone else.


        Consumer devices might boost sales tax revenues, but that would require long-term thinking. No politician, let alone the current administration, thinks beyond the next election. Their corporate paymasters don't think beyond the day that the executives' stock options vest.

    • by lysurgon ( 126252 ) <<moc.hsojhsidnaltuo> <ta> <khsoj>> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:31AM (#4871128) Homepage Journal
      Unlicensing the spectrum, in these times of budget deficits and an impending war, doesn't seem like a good idea fiscally.

      I disagree. While unlicensing a chunk of the airwaves won't bring in a big bonanza chunk of money, it will hell promote new industry and long term growth in the economy.

      The airwaves are one of the bases for ecnomic infrastructure in the "Information Age." The net economic effect of allowing thousands of individuals and businesses to make the most of this chunk of spectrum far outweighs any one-time payment from existing business groups, who in all truth probably wouldn't make much of it anyway.

      So the question is should the govenrment seek to bolster it's coffers once by selling spectrum to proprietary interests, or promote the economy as a whole over the next decade by letting us all use it. I think the choice is clear.
    • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:11AM (#4871530)
      Is it that perhaps this will spur new R&D in wireless devices and protocols to use this new spectrum, returning value to the economy this way? Or is there something I'm missing?


      Look at the adoption rates of WiFi vs. Cellular phones. Look at other novel projects (Ricochet as an example)... there is a need for unlicensed spectrum, and the FCC's role is to allocate that resource.

      As for revenue... selling off everything to the highest bidder is not necissarily the best use of a limited resource. It is much cheaper to raise income taxes to cover a budget shortfall than get a grant from a for-profit corporation that won't see returns for a decade.

      If there isn't more unlicensed spectrum available, what will happen to things like software radio, which can use the spectrum more efficiently, and not have it dedicated for a single function? In the long run, doesn't that pose a greater opportunity?
  • by RevDobbs ( 313888 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:11AM (#4870352) Homepage

    hmm... seems the best way to mandate HDTV is to start giving away the current TV spectrum.

    But I guess this can also open up true "public" TV stations, broadcasting for anyone who has an "old-fashioned" TV set...

    • hmm... seems the best way to mandate HDTV is to start giving away the current TV spectrum.

      How true. Something that didn't even occur to me until I read your comment.

      But I guess this can also open up true "public" TV stations, broadcasting for anyone who has an "old-fashioned" TV set...

      I assume that the frequencies would remain regulated, just not licensed[1] - the FCC rules would probably prohibit such a thing. You'd have to put out a pretty low-power signal in order to not interfere with the new wireless service or catch the FCC's attention.

      1 - regulated means you can't put a 200 megawatt transmitter on the cordless phone frequencies - it would jam all your neighbor's phones and be quite illegal. Licensed means you need to know something and go to effort to get it. Such as a ham radio license, a radiotelephone operator's license, or any other kind of technical certification needed to show that you are proficiant, capabile, and knowledgeable enough to receive the license.
      • 1 - regulated means you can't put a 200 megawatt transmitter on the cordless phone frequencies - it would jam all your neighbor's phones and be quite illegal.

        In this scenario, your neighbors aren't going to be thinking about their phones. With a 200 megawatt transmitter you could probably vaporize their houses.

    • Big problem in that... the HDTV spectrum is a subset of the existing spectum.

      What you're seeing now is a shift. Your former channel 5 that is now digital channel 40 is actually broadcasting on the same frequency range as any analog channel 40s, just broadcasting in the digital codec so your analog TV interprets it as seemingly random noise.

      This means if this proposal were to go into force, members of the public would have to be mindful of not just the analog TV stations they watch, but the digital stations they don't yet have the equipement to decode.
  • Now the static will be nothing *but* messages!

    I'm turning in my tinfoil hat. They're just too good.
  • Cool (Score:2, Funny)

    by Gabrill ( 556503 )
    Its about time I was allowed to use the 30+ channels not airing in my local broadcast area.
  • more info (Score:4, Informative)

    by shaklee ( 631847 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:12AM (#4870369)
    more on this topic here: http://www.fcc.gov/Speeches/Abernathy/2002/spkqa21 8.pdf
  • Bad Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Randolpho ( 628485 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:14AM (#4870383) Homepage Journal
    Well, I'm of the opinion that it's a bad idea. At least in the TV spectrum. Broadcasters do still use those frequencies, and opening them up at nebulous times like "where the frequencies aren't being used" or "at times when they're not being used" is too much to regulate. What happens when you're in an area that can't view TV signals but your neibors a few miles down the road are able to just barely pick out a signal? If you're on the same frequency, they're getting static.
    • by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:52AM (#4870675) Homepage
      "The low cost of GPS equipment could allow a device to determine its location and use information from a database to determine whether there are any licensed operations in its vicinity. Equipment can be designed that is frequency agile, with the capability of changing frequency as needed to avoid interference to licensed users."

      This means the devices will include the additional expense of a GPS chip and some way to contact the database to check if the location is safe for the frequency it wants, but this is certainly affordable. Heck, you can get a $130 phone from Sprint PCS that does all that (GPS and data network over 1xRTT). So, worst case, these devices will cost as much as a wireless NIC and a cell phone at the start. It is also possible that the database could be stored locally on the device (since TV stations don't move too often) with an expiration date, and need to be reloaded via a cable at some point or the device quits.

      But cost aside, the problems you mention are addressed already in the proposal.

      • Actually, from a technical standpoint, it doesn't look like requiring a GPS and a database would be necessary at all. If the FCC opened up the UHF broadcast television band to unlicensed spread-spectrum, in most cases the raise in noise floor due to the spread-spectrum transmitter will barely (if at all) effect reception in fringe areas (ie. where there is already so much snow that you can barely see the image). I did some quick digging, and a back of of the napkin calculation, and here is what I came up with... The assumptions: 1. The FCC requires a minimal threshold signal of -45dBm at a satellite uplink for stations which are being received via the airwaves and rebroadcast via satellite. This is considered a "good" signal. 2. -75dBm is typically the minimal perceptable signal received by an analog television tuner (I converted this from some test documents which mentioned -85dBu, but did not mention into what load. I assumed a reference of 0.775V into 75ohm and converted to dBm (1mW into 50 ohm). I don't work with broadcast television, so I am accustomed to units in dBm... if my conversion is incorrect, please reply - as my argument hinges on this! 3. A typical FHSS receiver has a minimal signal strength requirement of -116 dBm. 4. Depending on who you ask, a FHSS transmitter will raise the noise floor over a 10MHz band by between 10dB and 50dB. (10 by supporters of the technology, 50 by the detractors). I'll assume the middle of the road figure of 30dB. The argument: The FCC and broadcast television providers will be concerned with possible interference to their services. As licensed spectrum operators, their signal must not be interfered with by any unlicensed operators. In order to receive a signal with the spread-spectrum signal, the incoming signal must be above the receiver's sensitivity threshold. Using -116dB and adding in the peak spectrum power of 30dB, we get a figure of -86dBm as a minimal "good" quality reception. Since the FHSS signal appears as noise, the -86dBm received by the television tuner will represent its noise floor. Compared to the -75dBm minimal television signal strength, this represents a power margin of 11dB. The FHSS should have no impact on a well designed television tuner. In addition, if you only consider interference with "great" reception (at -45dBm) you have a power margin of 41dB. Now, while not important to the FCC and broadcasters, reception of the FHSS signal is important to us. Without going into a bunch of signal theory, it sums up to reception of the signal, but can be as low as 10% of the total non-interefered channel capacity (assuming a 6MHz television channel). But that is not exactly a problem - considering how many unused channels are available on UHF! So according to this, a FHSS could be simplified greatly. Set it to a channel like normal, and if you goofed and set it to a TV channel in use, it won't interfere, but you will get (much) reduced bandwidth. I'm all for it! It's a great idea!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:19AM (#4870411)
    FCC BEGINS INQUIRY REGARDING ADDITIONAL
    SPECTRUM FOR UNLICENSED DEVICES

    As part of the ongoing effort to promote efficient use of spectrum, the FCC today asked for public comment on the possibility of permitting unlicensed transmitters to operate in additional frequency bands. Such changes could allow the development of new and innovative types of unlicensed devices. This inquiry examines new and creative ways to utilize the spectrum resource more efficiently by considering new spectral frontiers for unlicensed use.

    In a Notice of Inquiry approved today, the Commission stated that the current rules for unlicensed transmitters have been a tremendous success. A wide variety of devices have been developed and introduced under those rules for consumer and business use, including cordless telephones, home security systems, electronic toys, anti-pilfering and inventory control systems, and computer wireless local area networks. The success of those rules shows that there could be significant benefits to the economy, businesses and consumers in making additional spectrum available for unlicensed transmitters. Unlicensed transmitters may be operated under the provisions of Part 15 of the Commission's Rules. Part 15 transmitters generally operate on frequencies shared with authorized services at relatively low power, levels and must operate on a non-interference basis.

    The Notice seeks comments on whether unlicensed operations should be permitted in additional frequency bands. Specifically, it seeks comments on the feasibility of allowing unlicensed devices to operate in the TV broadcast spectrum and locations and times when spectrum is not being used. It also seeks comment on the feasibility of permitting unlicensed devices to operate in other bands, such as the 3650-3700 MHz band, at power levels higher than other unlicensed transmitters with only the minimal technical requirements necessary to prevent interference to licensed services.

    The Commission noted that there have been significant advances in technology that may make it feasible to design new types of unlicensed devices that are able to share spectrum in the TV bands without causing interference to licensed services operating in those bands. Advances in computer technology make it possible to design equipment that could monitor the spectrum to detect frequencies already in use and ensure that transmissions only occur on open frequencies. The low cost of GPS equipment could allow a device to determine its location and use information from a database to determine whether there are any licensed operations in its vicinity. Equipment can be designed that is frequency agile, with the capability of changing frequency as needed to avoid interference to licensed users.

    Action by the Commission December 11, 2002 by Notice of Inquiry (FCC 02-328). Chairman Powell, Commissioners Abernathy and Copps, with Commissioner Martin approving in part and dissenting in part, Commissioner Adelstein not participating and Chairman Powell, Commissioners Abernathy, Copps and Martin issuing separate statements.

    OET Docket No. 02-380
    - FCC -

    Office of Engineering & Technology Contact: Hugh L. Van Tuyl (202) 418-7506
    • In the pocket (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MacAndrew ( 463832 )
      Gee, I groused elsewhere that the FCC was in the industry pocket in mandating HDTV (I not sure consumers or broadcasters wanted it all that bad, but the manufacturers sure did -- seems many of us were inconsiderately holding on to old sets for too many years). And now they issue statement in proprietary MS Word format? Sure, there are lots of translators, but should we have to use translators to listen to our own government?

      SO many people think Word is the lingua franca of the computer world. There's an example of a Microsoft success -- name it something generic like Word and make it the de facto standard. Not that I don't love MS, but I have avoided MS Word for about ten years. Even the IRS at least uses PDF.

      I consider the government using proprietary formats offensive, and have routinely complained about "Best viewed with Internet Explorer" tags on Virginia gov't homepages (I do live in VA). Their response (beside groaning at another crank email) was that Frontpage told them to put it there....

      Anyway -- now we return to our scheduled programming....
      • Not only Word (Score:5, Informative)

        by nosilA ( 8112 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:17AM (#4870974)
        If you change the last three characters of the URL to pdf [fcc.gov], you will see the pdf version, likewise with txt [fcc.gov]. I'm not sure why the story submitter chose to link to the word version.

        Every official release from the FCC is in all three formats.

        -Alison
  • what about later ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tmark ( 230091 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:20AM (#4870414)
    in areas where they are not being used

    Here's what I don't understand: If they open up these frequencies now, doesn't this mean that these areas are never going to get tv signals over the air ? And, if these frequencies aren't being used now, doesn't this imply that the utility of e.g. wireless is somewhat diminished in these areas, if only because it seems likely that there aren't that many people there ??

    This seems somewhat shortsighted. To paraphrase the old children's saw, once they give it away,they're never going to be able to take it back again.
    • by ibennetch ( 521581 ) <bennetch AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:40AM (#4870574) Journal
      If they open up these frequencies now, doesn't this mean that these areas are never going to get tv signals over the air ?

      No, the advent of DTV [2] assures that this will happen. The FCC, NAB, and networks seem to be pushing DTV on us - a lot of people I know don't want it (it means being forced to buy new TV sets, digital-rights management, etc). But the FCC's clear on the matter; we're going to have DTV (eventually[2]) - DTV uses a different set of frequencies so within a relatively short amount of time, all the standard television frequencies we use now will become quiet and unused.

      And, if these frequencies aren't being used now, doesn't this imply that the utility of e.g. wireless is somewhat diminished in these areas, if only because it seems likely that there aren't that many people there ??

      That depends on what type of wireless system this is talking about - and I just don't know. Short range, say; between houses or you and your neighbors house, no problem. Long range - sure, your comment has merit to some extent, but remember that most TV frequencies are taken up. This is due to interference, signal propagation, and other things that prevent two tv stations on adjacent channels from being anywhere near each other. The same problem would plague high-powered/long-range wireless services.

      footnotes:
      [1] - DTV includes such services as HDTV
      [2] - the date's been pushed back from (i think) 2004 to 2007, and probably will be pushed back again.
      • by Zathrus ( 232140 )
        digital-rights management

        Uh... sure... just as much as a DAT had DRM. The DTV signal has a single content control flag in it, which basically states whether or not it's recordable. To my knowledge, no content has been broadcast to date with this flag set (except by accident).

        Additionally, the first D-VHS recorder that was available utterly ignored the flag. The two newer versions now available do respect the flag though. But I don't know of any PC-based DTV tuners that respect it - it would be rather difficult, since they'd have to essentially turn off the data feed entirely. That or process everything onboard and output it only to component/svideo - which they can't do.

        Yes, studios, broadcasters, and the cable cos tried to get more draconian DRM into DTV. They failed. Utterly. The manufacturers told them to fuck off and now it's too late to change the standard, especially with mandated integrated tuners coming in 2004.

        The concern about buying a new set is certainly valid, but it's falling on deaf ears.

        the date's been pushed back from (i think) 2004 to 2007, and probably will be pushed back again.

        The original date was 2006. It's been pushed back to "when 80% of the public is capable of receiving DTV" (note that this is dependant not on the public having DTV tuners, but upon broadcasters putting out signals). My best guess is 2010-2012 at this point.
    • Channels 2-99 are reserved, but in almost all places fewer than 10 of those channels are actually used for broadcast, and almost all of those are under channel 50. The TV band definitely has a lot of unused frequencies to spare.
    • Contrary to what other posters have said, DTV uses the same spectrum as ordinary VHF/UHF TV. However, the important part to note is that DTV allows for adjacent channels to be used and for channels used in neighboring towns to be used in your town too. This is very different than NTSC where there are lots of technical reasons why you can't use all of the channels at once.

      These spaces in the middle could be used for more DTV stations in the future, or for more unlicensed bands. The FCC, realizing that we don't need more over-the-air stations, is considering opening that spectrum up for unlicensed uses.

      Note that 6Mhz isn't a whole lot, it's smaller than one 802.11b channel, and much smaller than one 802.11a channel, but it's in a very good range.

      -Alison
  • Right Direction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:22AM (#4870437) Homepage Journal

    Compared to many decades ago when the FCC was formed and for good reason, there's now a lot more ability to precisely control EM radiation and at a lot lower powers. The cost of transmitters and receivers and the advent of digital electronics has changed the situation dramatically.

    A lot of convenient devices and applications result from unlicensed spectrum at limited power levels.

    Society as a whole stands to benefit if more unlicensed spectrum is made available. Just do it in a way that does not technically (not politically) cause degradation in the licensed uses of the EM spectrum.

  • Why the Benevolence? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by zentec ( 204030 ) <zentec@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:22AM (#4870442)

    I find it difficult to believe that anyone within Congress will let this happen.

    First, the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) will have kittens at the mere suggestion of re-assignment of spectrum, either as a primary or secondary use. They'll have an absolute tirade if the proposal calls for secondary use of television spectrum. As well they should, part of their job is lobbying in Washington for the broadcasters.

    I also can not believe the incumbent telcos will stand idle for this either. After the huge investments in (the soon to die) 3G wireless, they're going to need help from Congress and a lot more of those annoying "MOTO" commercials with the extra fine print that mentions that the cool stuff needs to be downloaded -- and paid for on a per-kilobyte basis.

    However, if this were come to fruition, I can only see advantages. *Finally* the public gets to use its own valuable spectrum as opposed to having it auctioned off or sold to the highest bidder. The very spectrum that was formerly used by broadcasters to effectively print money will be put back into the hands of the people that allegedly own it.

    Technically, these frequencies should allow for greater range and avoid the ever present foliage and weather losses. Current 2.4/5.2 gig wireless networks are cool, but you're not going to see competitive wireless services built around them as you simply need way too many access points. Maybe this is what's needed to put real broadband into the hands of people like myself who live in rural under-served markets. It may also serve as a welcome kick in the shorts to the likes of Comcast/Covad/pick-yer-most-reviled-broadband-prov ider and introduce some competition.

    I'm hopefull, but still a pragmatic realist about it all. Congress doesn't necessarily do what's in the best interest of the people, so if you're in favor of this, start writing your letters.
    • This is probablly the best time to unlicense spectrum. All the telcos are hurting, and unless they really feel this is a threat lobbying against it would be a waste of money they need right now.
      Pretty much what it sounds like the spectrum would actually get used for is say, products like video baby monitors, or the drive-thru at the local fast food. and not really on products that directly compete with the telcos at all. even though the spectrum could be used to deploy a local 2-way ISP, like you pointed out, the problem with that is in providing the towers to operate the network.
      unless you can convince your early adopter crowd to site the WAN repeaters on thier property it's going to cost too much money to compete.
      so basically, anywhere that hasn't already been served by wireless broadband providers probablly won't be just by unlicensing this spectrum. due to a lack of demand, or due to the high cost of competing with the entrenched broadband offerings.
  • Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:25AM (#4870461) Homepage
    If you've ever seen a map of the frequency spectrum, the dominance of TV signals is astonishing, all the more so with double-wide HDTV. If I recall, nearly every radio (audio or navigation) frequency you can think of takes up less spectrum than a single TV station. I love TV and all, but think of the possibilities if we merely dropped Gilligan's Island reruns (haven't you seen them all before?). :)

    The expression "at times when the spectrum lay fallow" is interesting. To let a field lie fallow is to take it out of production for a season or more to allow it to replenish its nutrients, so that desirable crops will grow better later. A complimentary approach is to rotate crops, alternating ones that, say, replenish the bioavailable nitrogen in the soil, with others that deplete it. (I see that there is also something called "improved fallow" [agroforester.com].)

    I assume checmical fertilizers have made these quaint practices obsolescent in the developed world (except for organic farmers perhaps) but what an intriguing metaphor for the airwaves. Perhaps if you hold off on passing out frequencies, more interesting uses will come along.

    Just as a footnote, I don't remember demanding HDTV, I barely tolerate TV because of programming not resolution, and I haven't been happy at the industry-driven FCC resolution to force all of us to upgrade. I realize they faced a chicken-or-egg dilemma with introducing HDTV and digital signals to a skeptical public, but I would have preferred methods other than a gov't mandate. If I recall, the bandwidth was handed out for free, an interesting sacrifice given all the money made from auctioning cellphone channels. Will there come a time we regret dedicating so much spectrum to it? Or will cable make broadcast a thing of the past, anytime soon? Will HDTV flop, driving some stations to seek more useful applications for their free spectrum? Do I have even some of my facts right? :)
    • but think of the possibilities if we merely dropped Gilligan's Island reruns how could you ever even think of taking such drastic measures! If I don't get my daily dose of Mary Ann I simply can't go on.
    • Re:Yes! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Zathrus ( 232140 )
      Do I have even some of my facts right

      Some. You got a ton wrong though.

      all the more so with double-wide HDTV

      Huh? HDTV uses exactly the same amount of bandwidth as regular TV. I suspect you mean that, currently, all broadcast stations are allocated twice the bandwidth - one allocation for analog, and one for DTV.

      If I recall, the bandwidth was handed out for free, an interesting sacrifice given all the money made from auctioning cellphone channels

      You recall... oddly. Yes, they were given to the broadcasters "for free". With the caveat that they had to hand back the analog spectrum in the future, which would then be auctioned off. And which are much, much more valuable than the DTV frequencies because they propogate better.

      Will HDTV flop, driving some stations to seek more useful applications for their free spectrum

      If DTV "flops" (which it won't -- it's going to happen sooner or later), then the broadcasters cannot use their frequencies for anything else. The FCC mandated this as well - another one of those little riders that came with the "free" bandwidth.

      And no, I doubt you demanded HDTV. And I doubt many demanded TV in the early 50s. Or color in the 60s. And corporations universally shunned email until the 90s. Thankfully we don't just do things that people "want".
      • (For the interested, a detailed chart [doc.gov] of freq. allocations.)

        Yes, by "double" I referred to the "loan," if you prefer of add'l spectrum to broadcasters. There will be at least a decade before the spectrum returns, assuming the broadcasters don't figure out the political means to squat on it by then. They have to return it in 2006 or 85% market penetration, which clearly won't happen until later, esp. in non-early adopter areas.

        There has been some debate over whether stations can exploit additional space within their bandwidth, used for neither digital nor analog signals, for commercial purposes. I'm not sure how that came out.

        Your analogy to early TV is inept. The introduction of TV forced no one to buy anything unless they wanted to participate. Same with color, which was cleverly compatible with B&W TV's. Opt-outs did not subsidize early adopters, and improvements did not needlessly obsolete existing equipment. Now, with DTV we face losing our equipment -- unless we buy $$ converters -- and of higher cable fees as they transition to digital, etc. Already digital tuners are supposedly to be required for all new TV's whether you need one or not (most of us have cable). Moreover, HDTV also portends a new round of DRM that may ultimately peel off some fair use rights.

        I don't mind the advance to DTV at all, indeed it is probably a good thing. Many people do seem to want it, but -- and this is key -- I'm not at all interested in subsidizing them or the manufacturers in their entertainment or profits, respectively. I would like converting to me my choice, quaint notion though that may be, and will hold off as long as possible until the people who just absolutely positively have to have DTV rigth away have paid for the bleeding edge of technology and the prices drop.

        Thankfully we don't just do things that people "want" is offensive. I don't know how you distinguish between "we" and "people," but people were excited as hell about TV's debut. DTV is more ho-hum despite years of promotion and hype. More perceptive souls have questioned whether DTV is a rip-off for the ordinary consumer here or here [forbes.com] or here [cato.org] or various other places not preoccupied with how neat DTV is --- or what a favor they're doing for the little "people."
        • There has been some debate over whether stations can exploit additional space within their bandwidth, used for neither digital nor analog signals, for commercial purposes. I'm not sure how that came out.

          Resolved two or so years ago with the FCC stating, quite explicitly, that the new bandwidth would be used primarily for DTV broadcasting. As I recall, failure to do so would lead to a revokation of license for both channels.

          HDTV also portends a new round of DRM that may ultimately peel off some fair use rights

          No it doesn't. Go read some of my other posts. There's one freaking bit (as in 1/0) for "DRM" in the HDTV broadcast and it's pretty much useless.

          As for the "forced" move - feel free to suggest a better way. It's inherently impossible to broadcast a mixed analog/digital signal. It simply can't be done like the transition to color was (which, while clever, is a hack and an ugly one, and part of why NTSC has such a bad rap in the broadcast industry). And I haven't seen anyone told that they have to buy a DTV right now. In fact, it's increasingly looking like the final transition won't happen for another decade - which means a 15 year+ transition period. That's hardly rapid. By that time digital sets will have little or no price difference to analog sets.

          I'm not jumping for joy over the requirement to integrate digital tuners either... I know it's one way to force the move to DTV, but I think it was the wrong one. As a partial alternative, the FCC should have enforced the cable "must-carry" laws with respect to digital signals. Instead they decided it didn't apply, and so 3 years later the cable companies are only beginning to do area-limited HD cable systems. Certainly there would've been downsides to such a ruling (particularly to Dishstar and DirecTV), but at least then it would've put the content out to more people faster, and thus given more people a reason to buy a DTV.

          Frankly, I don't have an HDTV yet myself. Because I didn't want to pay the tremendous prices for the very early adopters either. But I do have money earmarked for a nice, big set (front projection just isn't in the cards for my house), I'm waiting on prices to come down some more before buying. Like I said, there's no gun pointed at my head.

          Will there eventually be some people forced to buy a new TV? Yup. But with a transition period of over 15 years, I find it really hard to sympathize.
          • One Q: with a 15-year transition, aren't there a lot of people in the middle left with the quandary whether to (1) buy an expensive digital set; or (2) buy a sooner-or-later-to-be-outmoded cheap analog set? I suppose price parity will occur at some point, but with the industry producing two kinds of sets it seems the economy of scale will take decades to arrive. I tend to keep equipment until it dies -- the perfectly nice Sony I'm looking at is almost 15 years old, from when their products were sturdier.

            Again, I do acknowledge the inevitability (if not the necessity :) of the move, but question the allocation of the burdens.

            A better way? Hmm. Wouldn't it be nice for the transition to be (more?) market-driven. This would delay introduction significantly, but, well, I don't particularly care. I don't think broadcast HDTV is all that valuable, and everything is going cable/satellite anyway -- most certainly for the high-end users interested in DTV in the immediate future. Even with gov't mandates, I'm curious just how many years the transition will take, for things like the 85% cutoff to be met will depend on consumer interest (and how will the % be measured? I'm sure many households will be hybrids of digital and analog sets). I'm guessing many years, your 15 is more plausible than the FCC's 2006. I also wonder how much all of this will cost. A lot.

            Just as a footnote, I don't trust the political FCC denying use of broadcast spectrum for other purposes being the end of the matter (and besides, if can be done it seems inefficient to bar it for fear of the broadcasters getting a windfall -- perhaps they can just pay a royalty for any extra mileage); and I could swear I've seen lots of mentions of DRM re digital TV ... perhaps it's a dead letter, I'd hate to see it starting that all over again as with the music CD's and such.

            Thanks for the info.
            • Again, I do acknowledge the inevitability (if not the necessity :) of the move, but question the allocation of the burdens.

              There is necessity, though. The necessity is to get rid of inefficent analog TV stations which monopolize a very large and very useful portion of the spectrum, because new technology has made it possible to broadcast video and audio in much more efficient ways. Currently, the majority of VHF and UHF channels in any given area go unused, because stations cannot operate on consecutive frequencies.

              Once the transition to DTV is complete, and the transmission of older analog TV is halted, that spectrum can be put to another use, in order to achieve a greater public benefit. Now, it's unlikely that this spectrum will be just opened up to unrestricted public use, but portions of it may be. Other parts may be reserved for particular applications or new appliances, which haven't even been conceived yet (a lot can happen in 15 years).

              The point is, we'll never get to do new things with this spectrum if we don't stop broadcasting TV on them. But TV is (to a majority of the general public) a good thing, so we don't quite want to abandon the idea. However, we have ways now to do TV much more efficiently from a spectrum-use standpoint (which most consumers don't understand is the REAL impetus behind the government mandate for DTV), while at the same time updating broadcast and receiver technology for better picture/sound with (currently) limited interactive features, so the public receives a small immediate quid-pro-quo for the sacrifice of having to buy new equipment.

              Yes, it's an uncomfortable transition, and it obsoletes a lot of gear. But we're not just doing this so that the A/Vphiles among us can get a better view of Leno's chin (which I must say is amazingly sharp on my HD-set, although I receive my signal via cable rather than over the air). Rather, it's an investment. And when the real returns on this investment start appearing in the form of new applications for the spectrum we're abandoning, I think the public will find the effort was worth it.
              • There is necessity, though. The necessity is to get rid of inefficent analog TV stations which monopolize a very large and very useful portion of the spectrum, because new technology has made it possible to broadcast video and audio in much more efficient ways. Currently, the majority of VHF and UHF channels in any given area go unused, because stations cannot operate on consecutive frequencies.

                Reclaiming spectrum is the primary reason for the move, which is to please the DTV people, and to please the commercial interests who would like to exploit any liberated spectrum.

                I don't think the intent is to increase the number of broadcast stations, or that we will see more. Any freed-up bandwidth will bring the gov't some money, and benefit business, as will selling a whole new generation of equipment -- but at our expense. The surge in consumerism is a goal in itself. That's the sort of misallocation of burden I don't like.

                Anyway, we have cable -- broadcast means nothing to us -- yet still will have to pay. As I've been telling them for years, I don't want interactive features or digital signals, and most people I know don't either. I would like to pay less, but that doesn't appear to be in the offing any time soon. Why can't we just have what we want, to be left alone with perfectly satisfactory technology? You may think of it as quid pro quo, but what if we don't want the quo?

                Granted, the technology is way cool, not that I want to see Jay Leno any sharper, or at all. Equally granted, I'm not interested, and will hold on to my analog stuff until the bitter end. I merely think you are being naive about the for-profit ventures that really lobbied for these new rules. The FCC appears to be going along because of the pressure, and because (not so much anymore) vague fears we'll be left behind the curve as countries like Japan advance. But the central concern in Washington DC, where I live, is money. Surprise.

                Don't get me wrong! I don't consider this a huge tragedy. But to me it is an example of the power of lobbying.
                • Of course there is lobbying involved. And of course many business interests will be slavering for that liberated spectrum. They may even get quite a bit of it.

                  I'm not so naive that I can't smell the money or understand the corruption behind a lot of this, but I'm not so cynical as to think there was NO concern for public welfare in the making of this decision.

                  You may not have understood, I was not arguing that there will suddenly be hundreds more broadcast stations, but to move the current broadcast infrastructure to a portion of spectrum and type of technology which will allow denser packing of stations. This will result in MORE bandwidth available for other things. Not just more stations, but for stuff like Meaningful wireless internet. Of all the proposed solutions to the "Last-mile" problem for high-speed communications connectivity, two-way digital communication on the VHF spectrum is one of the best, and I bet we'll see that happen in about 20 years or so.

                  This doesn't mean I think we won't still have to pay for the internet. I don't think we're suddenly going to see these incredible wallhacking electromagnetic waves just given back to the public for unlimited exploitation. I don't think that would necessarily be a good thing, either, because we need to have fairly clear and simple rules for playing nice on the airwaves so that everybody can enjoy them.

                  Under the old paradigm, that meant only one broadcaster per frequency, and you had to have space between channels so you didn't get interference. Under the new paradigm, this will probably mean devices have to conform to a set standard for digital transmission which allows multiplexing of many transmitters with many receivers.

                  Yes this provides a big opportunity to people who sell TVs now. I agree it's rather inconvenient, and maybe you don't want this particular quo. I did say it was a "small, immediate quid-pro-quo". The REAL quo we're talking about is your ability to use that tasty VHF spectrum for something other than getting TV on in 20 years. What goes in that spectrum might not be free (you may have to buy new equipment, and some services may require a subscription...it's too early to tell exactly what will be there), but it WILL be available, and that's more than we can say right now.

                  Maybe you don't see the value in more services being offered over the air, and more commerce being conducted in the ether, but the FCC does, and is acting in what they perceive to be the interests of the American people. I personally agree this is something that needs to be done, because it's quickly becoming apparent that the TV spectrum is too valuable to be squandered on something as outdated as TV technology.

                  You say "satisfactory technology," but it's most assuredly NOT satisfactory, when it's proven that TV occupies ten times as much band as it needs to. The "picture" may be good enough, but given the past 40 years of advancements in efficient usage of radio waves, the "signal" is ridiculously big.

                  We don't still carry around 5-lb phones with a shoulder-strap, now that 8oz pocket-phones are available. We don't fill entire basements with a vacuum-tube computer now that a 6" cube full of transistors can accomplish the same task. We don't hire girls on rollerskates to carry cables across a switch-room and manually connect calls now that automated multiplexers can route thousands of lines at a time. Why should we keep broadcasting TV on huge stripes of the EM-band, when we can condense the signal and accomplish more stuff in there?
                  • I know, I know, and I like new gadgets as much as the next guy.

                    Your faith in the FCC is ... unusual. Yes good things will come along for any extra bandwidth, but DTV was not necessary for that. Analog didn't take ten times the bandwidth -- more like twice, solely because of the spacing issue. The point in legislating DTV is DTV, not collateral benefits.

                    You can get a staggering amount of data into the bandwidth of a single TV station. So buy back a TV station license.

                    It sound like the phase-in will for practical reasons last a lot longer than the FCC or the broadcasters or the manufacturers have in mind. the last "deadline" for switchover I heard was the hopelessly unrealistic 2006, which would have consumers out for blood, considering that analog sets are selling strong. I don't think think the gov't should interfere in markets like this.

                    There are alternative approaches that I'd have to think out, but imagine that DTV spectrum was granted to TV stations to simulcast analog and digital ... and we stopped there? People who wanted digital could buy in. Manufacturers would have incentive to build dual-use tuners into their boxes at low prices, to attract customers to the benefits of compatibility rather than force then to buy it. Then wait and see how DTV fares on its own merits, in a market where consumers have choice. Eventually phase out analog when DTV has won acceptance, and digital units have price parity with analog. Sure, prices will fall regardless of whether the motivator is market or mandate, but I'll bet they'll fall faster under a market model.

                    Seems more democratic to me than a mandate. As for the bandwidth, we don't need a couple hundred MHz all at once, as we'll be getting, and I'm sure needed bandwidth could be located elsewhere, such as an underused TV frequency -- and there are plenty. Also, doling out free double bandwidth allocations for an indeterminate time -- until that 85% figure is someday met in 10-20 years? -- seems like it will lock up a lot of bandwidth for a long longer. Lastly, as far as I could tell browsing the FCC site, this DTV initiative is being sold almost entirely as "Great picture! Great sound!" and not as extra bandwidth for other purposes. The other purposes are great, but they should buy their way in rather than shoving the rest of us aside. (Maybe if they give me a free D/A converters I'll be happy -- don't laugh, it could come to that.)

                    Mind you, I may sound like a libertarian, but I'm a liberal who has no problem with constructive go'vt regulation. Here, I think it is destructive. I've seen articles here [cse.org] and there talking about my sort of concerns, but know we are in the minority. Actually, now that I think of it, the current approach may be the wrost one if the extra bandwidth remains locked up for many years while DTV adoption stagnates.

                    Of course -- it's just TV! And probably at some point I'll decide I just have to have DTV. Depending on how irritated I'm feeling. :)
    • Re:Yes! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nosilA ( 8112 )
      1) HDTV is not double-wide, it's 6Mhz like everything else.

      2) 6Mhz is less than a lot of other services, it's just that it looks like a lot because most frequency charts are logrithmic, and VHF/UHF is near the bottom.

      -Alison
    • the home shopping network! I can't live a second without it!!
    • An HDTV signal uses the same amount of space (6 MHz) as an NTSC (analog) signal. The advantage of HDTV is that the active channels can be more closely packed together, saving a great deal of spectrum. With the current system, each active TV transmitter makes several additional channels unusable for TV broadcasting due to interference concerns. That is why there are such wide gaps in the channel assignments of television stations.
      • The channel gaps are not universal in my experience. I think they are maintained more out of an abundance of caution -- an excess of bandwidth is reserved for TV in the first place -- and to avoid interference from transmitters outside the service area yet close enough to cause contamination.
  • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:26AM (#4870470) Homepage
    "Should any slashdotter actually want to submit a comment (gasp! could it be?), read this first (FCC's rules on electronic comment submission), and then go here."

    You MUST be new here, right?

  • Why the hell do people release documents to the public, or anyone for that matter, in .doc format?

    Seriously, I'm not trolling. .doc is for text editors, not presentation. When I send out documents, like my resume, etc., I use PDFs. Why? PDFs are print-quality doucments that cannot be edited by the recipient. Furthermore, they don't display assinine red and grey lines underneath words that the viewer's editor doesn't understand.

    People, if you are going to release documents, please, use a real print-formatted file format. Docs are for editing, PDFs are for viewing. sheeeesh!

  • UHF.COM (Score:4, Funny)

    by Myriad ( 89793 ) <myriad@th e b s o d . c om> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:30AM (#4870509) Homepage

    Put down your web search...
    Throw out your WIRED Mag...
    Put away your CAT5...
    There's no need to go wiring...
    Don't you know that we control the ping...
    We control the pong, too...
    We gonna make a WIFI user out of you...
    That's what we gonna do now...

    Don't change the location bar...
    Don't touch that bookmark...
    We got it all on UHF.COM...
    Kick off your sneakers...
    Stick around for a /.ing...
    We got it all on UHF.COM...
    Don't worry 'bout your pingtimes...
    Forget about your upstream provider...
    Just crank up the shoutcastin' volume...
    And yank off the coax cable...
    We got it all, we got it all, we got it all on UHF.COM...

    Disconnect the phone and leave the modem in the sink...
    You better put away your homework...
    Frag time ain't no time to think...
    All you do is make yourself a cantenna...
    Press your face right up against the screen...
    We gonna show you thangs you ain't ever seen...
    If you know what I mean, now...

    We got it all on UHF.COM...

  • The FCC is releasing practically everything in proprietary formats (MSWord and AdobePDF), despite the fact that almost everything is just text.

    Is there any reason they should be using proprietary formats for plain text?

    Is there any reason that everyone reading this Slashdot article couldn't take a few minutes to send a complaint to one or more of their commissioners?

    -Rick

    • Thank you! I groused about this elsewhere here.

      The gov't theoretically works for use. Imagine they started releasing reports in Russian and just told us "get a translator!" A Word doc might as well me in Russian for all I can do with it (let's see, I have a translator here somewhere).

      But this is 100% consistent with the FCC being in industry's pocket (cf. HDTV).

      I suggest focusing complaints also on the webmaster and such, people who will have an idea of what you're talking about. The commissioners would probably figure we're just hippie scum or something like that. :)

      P.S. Did you notice the anonymous response you got? What computer company do you think the AC works for?
    • FYI, PDF is an open document format. Adobe released it a while back. Anyone can create or view PDFs without licensing or purchasing anything from Adobe.
      • You wrote:
        FYI, PDF is an open document format. Adobe released it a while back. Anyone can create or view PDFs without licensing or purchasing anything from Adobe.

        Look closely at Appendix E of the PDF Reference [adobe.com] Do you see the requirement to register all plug-in names with Adobe? Do they publish those anywhere?

        And how did Adobe treat Dmitri Skylarov when he "opened" one of their PDF-compatible formats for them?

        Or perhaps you'd like to become the first person to publicly document the PDF format's default encryption filter? Although the Reference encourages the use of it's first optional filter (an RSA-developed and patented algorithm), the default remains part of the spec, undocumented.

        Does this seem "open" to you?

        The goal of Adobe's PDF format has little to do with facilitating the open exchange of information and more to do with promoting the brand name of Adobe Systems Inc.

        -Rick

    • Yes...contents of my e-mail to the commissioner, every chairperson, and the webmaster:

      Dear Chairman Powell et. al.:

      Today I read an article proclaiming the FCC is requesting comments on whether the FCC should expand the unlicensed wireless spectrum.

      I would like the opportunity to comment on this, but first I want to read the FCC's release. Unfortunately, I cannot do this. The release ( http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/ DOC-229400A1.doc ) is in a proprietary format that requires a proprietary piece of software that I do not own.

      As a citizen, registered voter, and political activist, I find it unacceptable that my government would force me to purchase software from a proprietary software vendor in order to take part in the political process. Requiring the purchase of said software is equivalent to an illegal taxation of the people and an illegal subsidy of a company *convicted* under the Sherman Act as an abusive monopoly.

      Please cease releasing documents in proprietary formats that only serve to extend a criminal organization's monopoly control over the desktop software market while simultaneously locking out citizens such as myself from participating in the political process.

      Good day to you all,

      -ME
  • by Matimus ( 598096 ) <[mccredie] [at] [gmail.com]> on Thursday December 12, 2002 @09:41AM (#4870585)
    As I understand it, the US military is taking up the majority of the usable spectrum. You would think that in an age of encryption and such, those bands could all be opened up, and the military woudln't have any problems keeping their data secure. If that much band width were opened up who knows what we could do with it. I've also heard that in Europe that cellular phones are much clearer and have more functionality, due to the fact that the military blocks a significantly smaller portion of their spectrum.

    Has anybody else heard anything along these lines?
    • Ever wonder why the US has the most powerful military (arguably) in the world? I guess it is a trade-off. I'd rather have a more functional military and less functional cell phone than the other way around (as in Europe).

      It's that military that keeps me free to use my cell phone in relative security. Oh yeah, one more thing... read this statement by Col Skinner [navy.mil] if you want to understand more aobut military spectrum requirements.
    • You would think that in an age of encryption and such, those bands could all be opened up

      Uh... encryption just makes sure nobody can understand you, it does no good at all if you're broadcasting from the field on a 5W handheld unit but can't be heard because Joe Schmoe is broadcasting on the same frequency using a wireless toy that outputs 500W.

      Yes, the military is moving toward digital spread-spectrum, encrypted technology (mostly because it's a helluva lot harder to jam or intercept), but they'd still like clear channels thank-you-very-much.

      The military has given back quite a bit of spectrum recently though, since they just don't need as much. A good bit of that is not horribly useful to the public though since it has miserable propogation properties.
      • Yes, the military is moving toward digital spread-spectrum, encrypted technology (mostly because it's a helluva lot harder to jam or intercept), but they'd still like clear channels thank-you-very-much.

        The military had spread spectrum long before the consumers did - they invented it and kept it secret for a while. Sometimes I think they should have kept it secret still).

  • Mmmmm....promulgating.... *lifts head back and drools like Homer*
  • by karmawarrior ( 311177 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:02AM (#4870774) Journal
    There's always going to be a strong case for sectioning off some parts of the radio spectrum simply to make sure that some services can operate uninterrupted - whether those are emergency services, cell phones, even to some extent radio and television. But the fact that some sectioning is necessary (or, in the case of radio and TV, desirable) has lead to a somewhat absurd situation where a substantial majority of the usable electromagnetic spectrum has been designated off limits. That's absurd, it's a block on innovation and on telecommunications, and arguably we would have seen a great deal more in that field over the last few decades especially had more than a few megahertz been open.

    Most countries have taken this approach. In America, the FCC has taken on a role not merely of allocating frequencies but of controlling, insofar as they constitutionally can, what travels over them. The absurd limits on the 2.4GHz band, created in part not to help foster private telecommunications but to make microwave ovens legal, mean that communications over these bands have to be ultra-local in scale and have lead to conflicts between household and office equipment that should not exist. When my microwave oven is on, despite the heavy shielding, my Seimens Gigaset phone's reception is audibly impaired. I gather a common complaint is that 2.4GHz phones tend to interfere with 802.11* wireless networks too. And all because of artificial scarcity.

    In the UK, until the mid-eighties, it was virtually impossible to use any kind of wireless device without a licence. An opening up made portable telephones and similar devices possible, but innovation was hampered for the longest time because of this.

    A genuine opening up - with some restrictions for some bands to reduce the chances of a destructive tragedy of the commons, but otherwise an unrestricted unrestrained environement - of large amounts of the spectrum, possibly insofar as practically possible going for the long term goal of opening up 90% of the airwaves, would create opportunities both for localised and long distance communications to a degree currently unthought of. Private, community owned, relay networks could create sane and affordable telephone provision, last mile provision for Internet type networks would become easier and could work on a broadcast rather than point-to-point model. Devices designed to operate within homes could work without a maze of unintelligable cabling - your TV and receiver could receive digital signals directly from a DVD player anywhere in the house, as long as the signals followed agreed upon standards. It'd be ironic to see "plug and play" type functionality built into every household media device to free itself from the use of plugs and sockets.

    At the moment, the government and FCC has no incentive whatsoever to do any of this. Governments have recently (last 20 years or so) seen rationing the electromagnetic spectum as an opportunity to raise stealth taxes. In an era where everyone looks at their income tax bills and blames the government, but looks at their cellphone bills and blames the cellphone companies, it makes sense for them to lighten the load on income taxes by moving to indirect taxation such as that generated by auctioning spectrum. This is a disasterous policy as not merely does it undermine the innovation that could be fostered in an environment of free spectrum, but it constitutes a form of regressive taxation as certain types of communication becomes more and more important and necessary because of network effects. I've known employers that refuse to employ people for certain types of job who will not supply a working cellphone number.

    The spectrum will not open itself. The government needs to act, and act in the public interest, not what it can get away with to raise funds on-the-sly. Unless people are prepared to actually act, not just talk about it on Slashdot, nothing will ever get done. Apathy is not an option.

    You can help by getting off your rear and writing to the FCC [fcc.gov], your congressman [house.gov] or senator [senate.gov]. Tell them that innovation and freedom is important to you, and that it's important that the airwaves be opened up to foster a genuinely innovative and progressive culture where communications are unhampered by artificial scarcities, monopolies, and restraints. Tell them that you appreciate the work being done into creating a large ISM band, but if these efforts fail, you will be forced to use less and less secure and intelligently designed wireless technologies, to get around the bottlenecks the current ISM bands impose. Let them know that SMP may make or break whether you can efficiently deploy OpenBSD on your workstations and servers. Explain the concerns you have about freedom, openness, and choice, and how opening up the airwaves can help all three. Let them know that this is an issue that effects YOU directly, that YOU vote, and that your vote will be influenced, indeed dependent, on his or her policy on opening up the airwaves.

    You CAN make a difference. Don't treat voting as a right, treat it as a duty. Keep informed, keep your political representatives informed on how you feel. And, most importantly of all, vote.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @10:10AM (#4870874) Homepage
    This is pretty big, as these things go - especially since television spectrum, being of a wavelength that easily penetrates walls and is not overly affected by rain or snow, is ideal for wireless services.

    and carry LESS information than 2.4Ghz the amount of information you are able to carry in a frequency channel is DIRECTLY coupled with the frequency and width of the channel you use. in the 50MHZ range where channels 2 and 3 reside you CANNOT transmit very much without using alot of the spectrum with a wide channel. I.E. you are using tons of frequencies to transmit the same information that is able to be transmitted on a few in the higher frequencies. and to do this you need Gobs more power.

    It's not magical. we use 2.4ghz because at low powers and small channel widths we can spew lots of information... as your frequency goes down the wider you need to be and the more powerful you need to be.
    • So very true.. I can't believe other people havn't picked up on this.

      It seems to me that the 50MHz frequency it best suited for broadcasting. As soon as you try to establish 2 way communications all those little portable devices burn up their batteries.

    • by AlphaOne ( 209575 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @12:03PM (#4872044)
      and carry LESS information than 2.4Ghz the amount of information you are able to carry in a frequency channel is DIRECTLY coupled with the frequency and width of the channel you use. in the 50MHZ range where channels 2 and 3 reside you CANNOT transmit very much without using alot of the spectrum with a wide channel. I.E. you are using tons of frequencies to transmit the same information that is able to be transmitted on a few in the higher frequencies. and to do this you need Gobs more power.

      Huh? The bandwidth required is not dependent on frequency. A television channel takes 6MHz no matter where you put it in the spectrum... 50MHz, 400MHz, 1.2GHz, etc.

      The power required for an equivalent coverage area varies, yes, but the bandwidth required does not. If you modulate a 10MHz carrier with a television signal, you'll suck up 6MHz of space.

      I think this is a common misconception because of the way the spectrum is currently laid out. The reason that high-bandwidth items are higher in frequency is simply that they were developed later in history than other uses. Therefore, they got higher frequencies because those below it were allocated and didn't provide enough available space for that particular purpose.

      If you could find a 25MHz chunk of bandwidth at any frequency you could run 802.11 stuff. Your power requirements would vary, of course, and your antenna would change size (and perhaps shape).

      It's not magical. we use 2.4ghz because at low powers and small channel widths we can spew lots of information... as your frequency goes down the wider you need to be and the more powerful you need to be.

      That is just wrong. We use 2.4GHz because that's where the available spectrum is, not because there's something magical about 2.4GHz itself.

      The only thing special about higher frequencies versus lower ones is propogation concerns (higher frequencies tend to go less distance with an equivalent power output) and antenna design.

      The bandwidth required does not change.
      • If you could find a 25MHz chunk of bandwidth at any frequency you could run 802.11 stuff. Your power requirements would vary, of course, and your antenna would change size (and perhaps shape).

        Yes, actually, high bandwidth things do better at higher frequencies for technical reasons. It includes antenna and circuitry issues. If you put a 25MHz wide signal at 50MHz, you will need to have circuits that deal with everything from 37 to 63 MHz (and an antenna to do the same). That's almost an octave.

        It is MUCH easier to deal with relatively smaller chunks of spectrum than with large ones, and at 2.4GHz, 25MHz is a relatively small chunk of spectrum. It would be hard to make a high gain antenna at 2.4GHz that didn't cover at least 25MHz, while the same thing at 50MHz isn't so easy. The same is true for filters, which would be required to exclude interference from nearby (in space and frequency) signal emitters like radio broadcasters.

        That being said, I think this is an extremely bad idea. The A and B contours of typical TV broadcasters are very much smaller than the actual reception range. The places where this low-power unlicensed networking is most likely to work well (the rural, non-RF polluted areas) are also the places most likely for people to have already invested money in towers and antennas to pick up the distant stations. These people are well outside the FCC-defined B contour, and unless the networking device has a high-gain antenna on a high tower, it isn't going to see that the frequency is already in use.

        The cities are already RF-polluted to the extent that this won't work very well there, and those are also the places where the FCC has already started opening unused TV frequencies for public safety use.

        Another poster commented that this sudden splurge of spectrum would push innovation. Not true. It is only the shortage of spectrum in the lower frequencies that has pushed development of the gigahertz bands now appearing in consumer equipment. Had there been unlimited space at 49MHz, you'd never have seen your 2.4GHz or even 900MHz cordless phones.

        • Yes, actually, high bandwidth things do better at higher frequencies for technical reasons. It includes antenna and circuitry issues. If you put a 25MHz wide signal at 50MHz, you will need to have circuits that deal with everything from 37 to 63 MHz (and an antenna to do the same). That's almost an octave.

          I knew there had to be a technician out there somwhere. :)

          Yes, I know this... but the original message was discussing how much MORE bandwidth a given signal would require if you pushed it lower in the spectrum. This simply isn't true.

          25MHz is a huge bandwidth to deal with at much lower frequencies because of resonance concerns (and filtering, amplification, and everything else).

          You're right about it being a bad idea, though... lots of those who dwell way out in the rural areas use extreme measures to receive television broadcasts.

          In addition, propogation changes could easily push a channel 2 signal nearly anywhere at the peak of a sunspot cycle. Part 15 devices would easily be drowned out by atmospheric skip. The FCC is already seeing this problem (and I think it was carried by Slashdot) in situations where HDTV signals were interfering with existing fixed mobile wireless services in other parts of the country due to ducting.
  • If we turned off all the terrestrial broadcast TV transmitters, and gave those people receiving them enough money to buy the same basic service from cable/satellite TV operators, that would free up loads more spectrum for the 'higher-value' uses we are discussing here. How much would it cost to square everybody, and would it be worth it in terms of the economic development that ought to follow ?
  • As part of the ongoing effort to promote efficient use of spectrum, the FCC today asked for public comment on the possibility of permitting unlicensed transmitters to operate in additional frequency bands.
    Forget about it. As soon as John Ashcroft hears about this, he'll put the kibosh on it because these are frequencies that big corporations can make mone... er, I mean, because terrorists can use these frequencies to plan attacks.
  • I live in an area that the telecom folks in Denver consider to be unworthy of their time. Dial-up is my the only option at present. Opening up spectrum will make it easier to set up wireless networking so that maybe I can get on the 'net at something faster then ~46 to 48kbs.

    Frankly, I am surprised that Powell has the balls. Though I note that he has been sitting on this until IBM/AT&T/Intel announced their nationwide wireless network.

    I think, therefore, ken_i_m
  • From the instructions page [fcc.gov]:

    ECFS only accepts filings in proceedings with docket and rulemaking numbers. ECFS is therefore unable to acccept filings in non-docketed proceedings.

    Can someone explain this so our comments are not disreguarded?
  • Okay, this country has de-regulated broadcast TV, broadcast radio, the cable industry, the satellite industry, and the phone companies.

    So why does the FCC ask for more people and a bigger budget every year? If the trend continues, they'll be spending every last penny in the federal budget to do nothing! (but at least we'll all have a job there...)
    • I'm not positive, but I heard somewhere that the FCC was entirely self-sufficient - deriving all of its money from regulatory fees and spectrum licensing. In fact, it gives money back to the federal government.

      You could argue you are paying for this in your phone, cable, etc bills, but it's not from tax money.

      -Alison
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This reminds me of the "Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure" proposal spearheaded by Apple Computer in the 1990s. FCC granted spectrum for this, albeit not at the higher power levels requested. Maybe this second time around will see higher power limits.

    One reference:
    http://www.apple.com/pr/library/1997/q 2/970128.pr. rel.fcc.html

    The ironic thing is that after the NII band proposal went through, Apple demonished much of its related research, only to later build upon Lucent's design work in order to introduce the now very successful AirPort products (based on 2.4GHz 11Mbps IEEE 802.11b, not the 5GHz NII Band). At least the 5GHz band is being put to use in new IEEE 802.11a specs.
  • (the first step in promulgating regulations)

    Oh yea, well you are a vestisio.... See, I can make up words too.


  • by JUSTONEMORELATTE ( 584508 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @11:02AM (#4871434) Homepage
    So now my $8k multi-channel wireless microphone system [sony.com] (UHF 66-68) will be shut down by someone setting up the latest-and-greatest 44Mbps wireless access point, and it's only gonna go to their 256k DSL modem anyway.

    --
  • all the people at the FCC trying to figure out what "First Post!!" means... ;^)
  • Just in case anyone is interested...

    I agree with the idea to extend unused broadcast television frequencies for use in Part 15 devices. Assuming devices would not bleed into cable television services that also use those frequencies (more likely now with the advent of broadband via cable modem), the only remaining issue I can see is to ensure that such devices do not interfere with persons trying to receive the sparse number of HDTV broadcasts out of their primary market. I would not agree that such devices must use GPS or databases to determine appropriate frequencies, as these restrictions would likely prevent such devices from competing in price with existing solutions. Passive sniffing and/or user-selected bands should be sufficient, along with a user-friendly database hosted by the FCC with frequency suggestions by ZIP code. In addition, these devices should not be required to work within the same band brackets as their corresponding television channels, as 6-8MHz at these frequencies does not provide adaquate bandwidth for many useful applications.
  • Precedent (Score:3, Informative)

    by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Thursday December 12, 2002 @01:19PM (#4872779) Homepage
    For many years, the FCC has allowed part (470-512 MHz) of the UHF television band to be used for land mobile radio services in areas where those channels are not being used by television stations. My local police department uses frequencies in this band.
  • Since it's been mentioned in several reply posts,
    the following URL points to a web page where you
    can download a somewhat detailed PDF format spectrum chart (105 kb):

    http://www.ntia.doc.gov/osmhome/allochrt.htm

    I don't know how up to date it is, but it still
    gives you an overall picture who has the lion's
    share of usage.

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