14 September 2007

The Golden Age of Emergency Band Scanning?

From the opinion section in today's LA Times:

The looming shift from analog to digital television signals in February 2009 will open a prime set of frequencies to new uses. Nationally, UHF channels 52 to 69 are being cleared for public safety communications and broadband wireless services. Regionally, significant chunks of unused airwaves could open up between channels, depending on how many stations are broadcasting in the area.

First, why looming? This is something to look forward to, 'looming' suggests dread, not hopeful anticipation.

Second, what's it going to mean for everyone to have multiple devices in their home capable of picking up emergency band communications? Police scanners already exist, but it's a specialized market, but when public safety communication will be used on frequencies already tuneable on millions of consumer devices, does this mean that every old TV tuner becomes a police scanner?

The channels between the channels of the current VHF and UHF channels from 2-51 are the ones being fought over. Digital channels require much less bandwidth, and are less prone to interference, so theoretically the spaces between channels in use should be free to be used by other digital devices once terrestrial TV is purely digital. But so far, lab tests have suggested that even with digital transmission and reception, an unacceptable amount of interference is likely to occur. Microsoft had their 'whitespace' devices rejected by the FCC, but they're claiming the test was fixed (too lazy to find the links, but that's my interpretation of the back and forth between M$ and the FCC over the devices that failed certification recently).

I'm a little surprised this LAT editorial is taking the side of greater consumer freedom. They must envision some sort of liberal pirate radio and video services popping up in that bandwidth fighting the brain control rays being put out by 'the man' on the 'official' channels.

Of course, they may make a 180 turn in a few months and decry the increase use of RF signals in our daily life and claim that exposure to RF may be harmful to humans (as a few folks who believe they suffer from 'electrical sensitivity' already claim)

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