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FCC / Spectrum Auction Update - May 6, 2014

Dan Ostroff

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FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said today that the government should develop a “game plan” for unlicensed spectrum, including creatively ensuring that enough spectrum in the 600 megahertz band is made available for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed applications.

Ms. Rosenworcel spoke to a Washington event sponsored by WifiForward at a time when unlicensed spectrum advocates are urging the FCC to reserve enough spectrum for such use in an incentive auction order that Commissioners plan to adopt at their May 15 meeting.

Unlicensed advocates have expressed concern that the Commission will short-change their priorities in the order.

As circulated, the draft FCC order would make guard band and duplex gap spectrum and channel 37 available for unlicensed use, with the size of the guard band and duplex gap spectrum ranging from roughly 12 MHz to a little more than 20 MHz, depending on how much spectrum is recovered from broadcasters. Unlicensed operations would be permitted on channel 37 by using exclusion zones to protect medical telemetry and radio astronomy incumbents.

The staff also proposed allowing licensed use of wireless microphones by broadcasters in the duplex gap. Staffers proposed auctioning the two channels currently reserved for wireless mics.

Unlicensed spectrum advocates have sought at least 24 MHz of spectrum in each market nationwide.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters has urged the Commission to reserve the duplex gap for wireless mics, which unlicensed advocates oppose, while the Wireless Medical Telemetry Service Coalition is worried that the FCC will allow unlicensed devices to share channel 37 before determining how the WMTS devices can be protected. The coalition is skeptical that geolocation databases can ensure adequate protection.

In the text of her remarks today, Commissioner Rosenworcel said that “it is high time we give unlicensed spectrum—airwaves open to all under technical rules—its due. Because it is an essential part of the wireless ecosystem, a critical part of wireless service, and an important input into the modern economy. … So I think it is time for an unlicensed spectrum game plan. It should no longer be an afterthought in our spectrum policy. It deserves attention upfront, in policy prime time.”

“So let me sketch out what an unlicensed game plan looks like,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “It takes high-band, mid-band, and low-band spectrum.”

Regarding 600 MHz band spectrum, she said that “while finding several contiguous channels for unlicensed service may be difficult, I believe there are creative ways forward.

“For my part, I think that creativity starts with ditching the tired notion that we face a choice between licensed and unlicensed spectrum. This is a simplistic relic from the past that we should have long since retired—because good spectrum policy requires both. Moreover, we need to discard the conceit that Wi-Fi comes only at the expense of others who wish to use the airwaves. Because new technologies like dynamic databases can allow several services to co-exist harmoniously,” Ms. Rosenworcel said.

“We also need to recognize that other services striving for white space in the 600 MHz band—like wireless microphones, low power television, and medical telemetry—matter,” she added. “Wireless microphones are critical for newsgathering, key for Broadway productions and widely-used in churches and schools. These microphones deserve a home. Low power television and translators also play an important role in communities across the country—and can extend the reach of television in rural areas. Plus, lives depend on medical telemetry. So these services need protection.

“If we take these things as a given, I still think we can find solutions. Let’s be creative. We can consider an expanded duplex gap, find new locations for unlicensed microphones, and provide unlicensed opportunities in channel 37—while also protecting existing users,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “Moreover, if we do this right, we can increase the value of licensed spectrum without diminishing the number of licenses we sell at auction. In short, if we are creative, I think we can honor the constraints in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, but also free up new unlicensed opportunities in the 600 MHz band. That’s win-win.”

Regarding high-band spectrum, the Commissioner said “that the FCC has made terrific progress in the 5 GHz band,” including recently freeing up an additional 100 MHz in the 5.150-5.250 GHz band. And she reiterated that “we can take the policies we are developing for managing exclusion zones for service in the 3.5 GHz band and use them as the blueprint for making more unlicensed spectrum available in the 5.350-5.470 GHz band.”

Ms. Rosenworcel noted that 2.4 GHz mid-band spectrum is crowded “o we need to be on the watch for new mid-band opportunities for unlicensed spectrum, especially in airwaves that are underutilized.”

Michael Calabrese, director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, praised Ms. Rosenworcel’s remarks.

“Commissioner Rosenworcel made the critical point that just like licensed spectrum, the most productive ecosystem for unlicensed must include bands with different propagation characteristics and capabilities,” he told TRDaily. “Unlicensed at 5 GHz is great for capacity, while unlicensed access in TV band spectrum below 1 GHz is critical for difficult coverage cases – both in rural areas, but also to penetrate better into buildings. She is absolutely right to characterize TV White space as the ‘super spectrum’ that can leap buildings in a single bound. Public interest groups are heartened to have Commissioner Rosenworcel as a champion for unlicensed broadband coverage and innovation.”

In response to Ms. Rosenworcel's speech, Dennis Wharton, executive vice president-communications for NAB, said, "We strongly agree with Commissioner Rosenworcel that there should be a viable place for both unlicensed and wireless microphones in the 600 MHz band. NAB is a supporter of unlicensed spectrum and applauds the FCC on the incredible progress it has made to free up spectrum for that purpose on 2014 alone. We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC to find the best solutions possible to allow broadcasters to cover breaking news while continuing to foster new unlicensed uses."

In earlier remarks at today’s event, Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) also said he is bullish about the future of Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses.

“There has never been a more important time to free up huge amounts of spectrum for use by people who want to make it available to everyone for free, or in a business model that is based on that low cost, public interest,” he said, according to excerpts released by his office.

Panelists during an afternoon session also stressed the importance of the FCC making more spectrum available for unlicensed use – particularly in lower bands.

Rob Alderfer, principal strategic analyst for CableLabs, said Wi-Fi “has some growing up to do,” adding that it needs more spectrum and more reliability. He said such reliability could occur in the 3.5 GHz band.

But Mr. Alderfer said the FCC should adopt rules for the 3.5 GHz band that involve smaller exclusion zones to protect federal operations. Those exclusion zones would put off-limits 60% of the U.S. population. The zones were included in a report that assumed higher-power operations, rather than lower-power ones, he said.

Julie Kearney, vice president-regulatory affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association, said she was pleased that the FCC made more spectrum available in the 5 GHz band, although she noted that more work needs to be done to free up additional frequencies.

The panelists also defended why the FCC should make unlicensed spectrum available for free rather than auctioning those channels, as some carriers argue. The level of economic benefit to the U.S. economy from unlicensed spectrum dwarfs auction revenues to the U.S. Treasury, Mr. Alderfer said.

In brief closing remarks, Blair Levin, a communications and society fellow at the Aspen Institute who led the FCC initiative that drafted the 2010 national broadband plan (NBP), said he agreed with Ms. Rosenworcel that unlicensed applications need access to a variety of bands and that people should not pit licensed vs. unlicensed, noting the use of the latter by wireless carriers to help manage their networks.

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this is at least the third thread currently going on about this, and frankly, I suspect it would be a lot easier on folks if this was not scattered, and uncoordinated over multiple current threads ...


there is also this new article to consider: http://www.audiomedia.com/broadcast/0003/fcc-moves-may-dim-wireless-mics’-future-/1083

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Your stance on this has been stated over and over and over again....  Frankly, I find it easier for a new thread to be created for current updates (new news if you will and why I included the date the news occurred in the subject line) rather than be buried in a long thread that may or may not be precisely on topic.  

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Serves me right for not spending enough time here.


First. We will probably lose 600 MHz. Not without a fight, though. To view the official debates:




click on the 08-167 for the list. Kudos to Shure for footing the bill on legal..


For the future, we need to band together as the professional film and television professionals who make their living using wireless mics.


If you have a license, or have applied, please submit an email with your name, call letters (or the words 'application pending', your location, and union affiliation, if affiliated, to:




tell your friends.


Jay Patterson, CAS

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