Get the facts on Television White Space Databases
Mar. 23, 2015  |   Wireless Internet Service Providers Association

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) wants the FCC to declare an “emergency” and shut down the databases that let small businesses and others deliver broadband over vacant spectrum near television channels. NAB wants to create the impression that the databases aren’t working correctly. That’s just not true. In fact, NAB has provided no evidence that any FCC requirement is not being met, and can’t cite even one instance of any harm to a broadcaster from the data-entry rules and processes it criticizes.

Understanding NAB’s petition

Television white space databases allow broadband providers and other innovators in wireless technology to use vacant spectrum in the television bands to offer their services. A database tells the users what spectrum is available for use without causing harmful interference to others nearby.

There has been no interference and no injured broadcasters. NAB’s petition doesn’t allege that interference to broadcasting has occurred. In fact, there are several projects successfully using these databases to bring broadband to local residents. Check out, the Digital Libraries Pilot Program and the Town of Thurman, NY for a start. None of these projects have interfered with broadcast operations.

So what is the fuss about? To promote competition, the FCC allows different companies to operate a database of all TV stations and other protected services, so their signals can be respected by other users. The database also lists the location of each fixed TVWS transmitter and a contact address for the owner of that transmitter. NAB has said that the records for fixed device registrations don’t match across databases, and some appear to be test or dummy registrations. Neither of these issues should be cause for concern.

  1. Testing databases is an important part of the development and deployment of innovations. As the NAB’s petition points out, the databases are being checked with test entries that don’t reflect any actual radio equipment. Again, checking database systems by creating test entries doesn’t affect radio operations and there’s no interference or harm to broadcasters. In fact, this testing is designed to ensure that equipment communicates with the database as it is required to do.

  2. The "discrepancies" between location and address are not indications of a messy database. The database contains two entries for each device: Its actual location and a contact record for the operator of the device. The NAB is trying to create the impression that there’s something wrong if device location and operator address entries don’t match. But the location of a device has nothing to do with the contact address of the owner of the device. The “location” is where the device is; the “address” could be where the responsible company can be contacted. This is like complaining that because NBC is located at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, listing the location of the NYC NBC transmitter as on top of the Empire State Building is “inaccurate” and might cause interference.

  3. The database is not open to tampering. The location for most TVWS devices is determined automatically using GPS. The FCC makes an exception for high-power base stations that are professionally installed. These are enterprise-grade devices at fixed locations. For these devices, reporting location information requires specialized knowledged that the average user just doesn’t have. It was reasonable for the FCC to assume that professional installers of these high-end wireless stations will know and follow the rules.

  4. The FCC could clarify requirements to unify databases, but it’s also not a bug. To avoid the sort of confusion NAB is trying to create, the FCC may want to standardize the policies for the databases to purge inactive transmitter records and possibly take further steps to clarify to broadcasters and others how the TVWS database works. Such changes, while possibly helpful to avoid confusion for those checking the database, don’t matter for interference. The most important thing is that no TVWS device can operate without a confirmed, accurate location for the device verified by a database every 24 hours. This protects broadcasters against interference, which is the only thing that matters to TV viewers, and all that should matter to NAB.


The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) is a broad-based group of innovators, providers, consumer groups, think tanks and education organizations that believe that more efficient use and expanded access to the nation’s spectrum resources are fundamental to the future of U.S. economic policy and global competitiveness, and that we face potential spectrum scarcities in both licensed and unlicensed bands that must be addressed in order for innovation and investment to move forward.
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4:27 AM Mar 23