Spectrum refarming: The FCC returns to hook up the appliances
It’s like having your kitchen remodeled. When the carpenters, plumbers and electricians are “done,” you find that the appliances are installed, but they’re not connected to power, water and drains. It’s not as though you can’t use the sink_that’s hooked up_but you can’t use the disposal or the dishwasher.
No, maybe it’s more like ordering a meal at a restaurant. It’s served, and everything’s on the plate, but you don’t have any silverware, and you can’t get the server to come back for a while. It’s not a problem at Kentucky Fried Chicken. (You can get your own silverware_or a “spork,” actually_or you can eat with your fingers.) But if you’ve gone upscale, to Red Lobster, for example, not having silverware could be trouble.
It’s a lot like spectrum refarming, actually.
See, the original idea, maybe, was to rearrange the technical and operating rules governing private radio on frequencies below 512MHz to make it possible for more people to use radio communications equipment without interfering with each other when they talk. The FCC issued a bunch of new rules intended to remodel these frequency bands, but some of the owners_call them taxpayers or license-holders, manufacturers or trade associations_thought they weren’t hooked up right, or they came without sporks. Anyway, using them as they were might have caused problems with medical devices that use radio or might have required expensive followup construction.
Well, you can ask for the appliances to be hooked up or wait for silverware or whatever, but it’s going to hold things up. The plumbers and servers are busy elsewhere by then. Spectrum refarming had been held up by requests for stays, petitions for reconsideration and so forth, leaving manufacturers and license-holders uncertain about what to do, and the FCC was busy with other matters, such as auctioning spectrum. In December 1996, though, the FCC issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order in the refarming matter that may have cleared up some of the uncertainty.
Heavy reading_lengthy, anyway Look: the Order is a 98-page document. I can’t claim to understand all of it. I can’t claim to understand all of its implications. I can’t claim to have read it. Actually, I found out about the Order when speaking with an attorney at one of the Washington law firms a few days after it had been issued. (No, not the usual firm.) He offered to send me a copy. Then, he apparently decided it was too big, so he sent a copy of the FCC’s press release instead. Our friends at Industrial Telecommunications Association (ITA) sent a summary. (Thanks!)
So I’m not going to pretend to have some special insight into the Order, nor is it possible to summarize it on the editorial page. Even ITA’s summary is a little more than three single-spaced typed pages, which is more than this page contains.
What I notice, though, is that the important matter of medical telemetry devices operating on offset channels is covered. They can continue to be operated on a secondary, non-interference basis with an output power not to exceed 20mW (twenty thousandths of a watt).
At the same time, the FCC affirmed its decision to allow coordinators to place high-power stations on the offset frequencies. These might interfere with the telemetry devices, which is why some people asked the FCC to reconsider the matter in the first place, but at least it is decided. I hope the hospitals that use these devices get the word. If I read the regulations correctly, the hospitals must have a related FCC license to use such devices (but not a license for the device itself), so perhaps there is a way to notify them.
Relief for existing systems On another subject, provision has been made to allow some existing radio communications systems to keep operating without making extensive (and expensive) modifications. New stations have more restrictive limitations on antenna height and transmitter power, and some people were worried that owners of existing systems would have to spend a lot of money to retrofit. Won’t have to, apparently.
Remember amplitude companded single-sideband (ACSSB)? A few ACSSB systems were wedged into the 150MHz-174MHz band years ago, before the 220MHz-222MHz band was reallocated from radio amateurs for the purpose. A few people have ACSSB systems that work well for them, and they installed them because no alternative FM system would fit their coverage requirements. Those who have ’em can keep ’em, until Aug. 1, 2003. That’s good.
A manufacturer of ACSSB equipment, by the way, asked the FCC to change its refarming rules to specify 5kHz-wide channels, because that’s what ACSSB signals fit today, without having to wait for a migration from 12.5kHz-wide and then to 6.25kHz-wide channels. “No,” was the answer. I remember my early studies of frequency modulation (FM), and how the audio fidelity and resistance to noise and static diminish as the frequency deviation is reduced. Maybe digital signal-processing will overcome reception problems with the tiny deviation required to fit FM into 6.25kHz-wide channels. Otherwise, SSB proponents have a point. Amplitude modulation (AM) and its derivations, including SSB and linear modulation, already work in narrow bandwidths.
When the FCC returns, again So, those are a few things that the FCC decided in its Order. What did it leave for future decisions? From the ITA summary: Expansion of the authority delegated to frequency coordinators. Migration of low-power systems to newly designated low-power channels and the appropriate time for the migration. Designation of certain VHF highband channels in the Forestry-Conservation Radio Service for wide-area use. The degree to which existing licensees may claim “technology” channels created through narrowbanding. Modification to the station identification requirements to permit transmission of the station identifier in digital format. After all, when is remodeling ever really done? _Don Bishop