Blog Post

Cable Group Doesn't Want to Free the Airwaves

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has joined wireless microphone companies and the National Association of Broadcasters in poo-pooing Google’s hope of using the white spaces between digital television stations for wireless broadband. The association filed its objection with the FCC on Wednesday, claiming that white-space devices that have already been tested caused interference with cable channels, which, unlike broadcast channels, don’t have a white space signal buffer between signals.

In its letter, the industry association paints a dire picture of interference in the home and in the equipment leading into neighborhoods should Google’s plan to “Free the Airwaves” succeed.

To put this in perspective, every time a consumer in a single family home uses a personal/portable TV band device as currently proposed, its signal output will interfere with cable services. For example, a family member using a TV band device in one room for home networking could foreclose another family member from watching a particular TV channel in another room. The affected channel would go blank or be seriously degraded. The idea that a consumer could simply put more distance between the device and the television set is not a solution.

Despite the fact that cable guys sell broadband access services– and will sell wireless services one day — I’m sure the NCTA protest has nothing to do with trying to halt a potentially competitive service offering. Nope, nothing at all.

3 Responses to “Cable Group Doesn't Want to Free the Airwaves”

  1. Your post suggests cable’s concern with white spaces is a response to the new broadband competition they would provide to cable. Unfortunately, that’s a gross misrepresentation and it’s important for your readers to understand what has happened in the longer history of the white spaces debate. 

    Cable’s concerns have been based solely on technical issues. Cable has been very patient in this process, extending over several years. We first raised our technical concerns at the FCC in the white spaces proceeding four years ago. At the same time we have reached out continuously to the white spaces proponents for constructive solutions. In 2007, we submitted a detailed technical study which described our interference concerns.

    The important thing to keep in mind here is that cable has no white spaces. While various proposals and ex parte advocacy filings have been submitted in this proceeding, none have addressed the implications of TV band devices operating on the same frequencies used by cable. None have focused on the potential disruption of customer viewing of cable programming. 

    This inattention has persevered despite detailed filings by NCTA demonstrating the high likelihood that unlicensed personal/portable TV band devices, as currently proposed, will interfere with cable service. The Commission’s own findings in lab tests a year ago confirmed the serious risks of “direct pickup” (DPU) interference to cable-ready DTV receivers. Now, early reports of Commission field tests further demonstrate that the risk to cable consumers is very real. 

    A second problem is the high risk of interference to rural cable headend antenna reception. Cable systems in rural communities often rely on tower-mounted, high gain directional antennas to receive broadcast signals. Many of these headend sites are outside the station’s predicted Grade B contour. 

    NCTA has urged the Commission to take full account of the unique hazards to cable before it approves unlicensed transmitters on TV white spaces frequencies.

    We think this is a straightforward problem that needs to be addressed. We continue to support efforts to open up additional spectrum for the delivery of new wireless communications. However, the customers we serve have every right to expect this to be fixed before that happens.

    In the future, I would invite you to contact us for clarification before posting something that is simply not accurate.


    William Check
    Senior Vice President for Science & Technology

  2. So without addressing the merits of the filing, you’re prepared to provide a caricature of the cable industry and say, “nope, they don’t want competition.” You could very easily read the filing and confirm that interference has been picked up on cable ready TVs both analog and digital. Based on tests conducted to date a significant number of the 65 million cable households may experience interference from these devices.

    As a technology publication, don’t you have a responsibility to report accurately the pros and cons of the technology?

    As you mention, Cable has good reason to explore wireless, but you then discount that and argue that we would neutralize a potentially lucrative technology.

    We welcome the competition that white space devices would bring, but not at the detriment of the services to which our customers subscribe.