Defining Vision, Revisited

16 07 2017


Long and short:  MSFT is going to add muscle to 802.11af, aka White Spaces, aka WhiteFi.

As you can read here, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is opposed.  But they don’t have any good technical grounds for their opposition, because television broadcasting today is entirely digital, and even transmission on an otherwise vacant channel “next door” to one used for a DTV signal will create zero interference to the reception of the DTV signal, even if it was another DTV signal.  It’s just that people who have spectrum are militant about wanting to keep it without having to share it.

The only reason we have HDTV/DTV today was this self same NAB militancy.  In the 1998 book Defining Vision, the late Joel Brinkley, David Brinkley’s son, demonstrated that when the idea to sub-let blank TV channels for first responder and public safety uses, the NAB, in a cynical search for a counter-argument, cynically latched onto HDTV as something they supposedly wanted to do, and needed all their spectrum to do, as someone pointed out the much more advanced state of HDTV development in Japan at the time, and we’re talking circa 1987.  The problem is that the political reaction to this cynical trial balloon was that everyone was outraged that the Japanese were well ahead of us in yet another thing, and these were the years when we actually thought Tokyo would be ruling the world by now.  The political snowball that started rolling after that actually did lead to both high definition and digitally transmitted over-the-air television.  The irony is that what we got was compatible with first responder and public service uses of white spaces even in analog voice modes without interfering with TV, and the only reason that didn’t actually happen is because, in the wait, trunking technology rolled out, which allowed for much more efficient use of the existing public service spectrum allotments.  Also, in between time, the Japanese economic train vastly slowed down.

So now, we’re back to square one, with rural broadband being the thing which wants to use white spaces, and the NAB is all out of excuses.




3 responses

17 07 2017

There are two sides to this story. Not to make excuses for the OTA tv bidness, but HDTV was coming whether people liked it or not. The issue was how to do it. Since the people own the airwaves, and television corporations aren’t “natural persons”, govt wants to tax its use. Considering that tv is a luxury, I don’t particularly have a problem with that. Television is a marxist money printing press on top of being a propaganda tool.

OTA stations pay huge lease fees for the use of the public airwaves. When the issue of how much money was going to be charged was under consideration, Congress wanted assurances that stations were going to use the full bandwidth they were leasing for a single, high-quality digital broadcast, not divvy up the bandwidth between a not-so-high-quality network feed of soap operas and two sub-streams, the first airing re-runs of Gilligan’s Island and the 2nd channel, the Chuck Norris Exercise Machine Infomercial Channel. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you could see that coming a mile away. Once you get away from the top ten markets, most stations are running subchannels.

In any event, what you have here are two avaricious entities fighting for shelfspace. On the one hand, you have the OTA companies paying expensive fees for airwaves to broadcast video content, and then you have M$ who allegedly wants to offer “broadband” (as if we were talking about people reading blogs) in “unused” spaces between the OTA channels. Whether there would be any interference isn’t the issue.

If I were Micro$haft, what I’d want to do is to get free or low-cost use of those frequencies to claim I’m offering “broadband internet” to the disenfranchised masses in rural areas when what I really want to do is to start up my M$TV channel a la Hulu/Prime etc. and offer deals on video content served up in those whitespaces between the OTA channels in cities. M$ didn’t spend all of that money on cloud infrastructure to watch Bezos get rich serving up video content.

Meanwhile the OTA broadcast companies are watching somebody snivel their way into airspace they had to pay through the nose for so a competitor for eyeballs can hasten their own demise without paying the same fees. M$ could have just bought up a whole unused TV channel and done it that way; they’re making it sound as if they just want to make use of some wasted resource to provide Bubba with email. The reality is they want to provide Shaniqua her soap operas on her Obolafon and they don’t want to pay the OTA airspace lease fees. Go ahead and let M$ have the whitespaces but write into the contract that M$ can never offer video content over any of that infrastructure and see how quickly that whole enterprise croaks.

It ain’t just the NAB who’s greedy.

17 07 2017

I can agree with almost all of this, except for this part:

Congress wanted assurances that stations were going to use the full bandwidth they were leasing for a single, high-quality digital broadcast, not divvy up the bandwidth between a not-so-high-quality network feed of soap operas and two sub-streams

The idea that this kind of deal making was necessary wasn’t itself necessary until it was obvious that HDTV would be digital tx instead of analog tx. In the early days of HDTV development, it was assumed that it would be analog. Which is why the NAB was squaking about second channel per station, when in reality, for analog HDTV at 1080 lines, it would have taken five channels. All the NAB wanted was to beat back the monster that wanted to do pubserv on white spaces. What eventually happened is that someone in some lab figured out that if the tx mode was changed to digital, you could do full HDTV in a single 6 MHz channel, and all that was necessary was for improved compression algorithms. (As an aside, ATSC 3.0 will improve the compression algorithms even more so that 4K can fit in single channel.)

And, as always, experience has taught me that, when it comes to these kinds of things, there are usually no angels involved. It’s a matter of self interest versus self interest.

17 07 2017

Right, you’re talking very early in the game, I was referring to once it was decided that analog was going to go away forever. In the 70’s, public service two-way radios ate up channel 14 in NYC for example, and even though the only thing on UHF at the time was a secondary PBS station and Canal Cuarenta Siete, El Canal de los Grandes y Spectaculos, I’m sure the weasels at the NAB weren’t happy about that. There is nothing I wouldn’t put past the television industry. In any event, I also agree about the no angels except that the tv business is a special case. Having seen the tv business from the inside for more years than I like to remember both at the top-ten local level up to the networks, when you look up the word “dirtbag” in the dictionary, the definition is accompanied by a picture of a tv industry suit :)

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