“Every room, every house, every shade of noise
All the floors, all the walls, they all shake with noise
We can’t sleep, we can’t think, can’t escape the noise
We can’t take the noise, so we just make

Those whose musical tastes run toward the Country end of the spectrum may identify with the lyrics above from Kenny Chesney’s new song “Noise” as a social commentary about the constant barrage of information in our modern lives, with the overall effect of just increasing the noise level.

Kenny Chesney Noise No Signal

Similarly, rising noise levels in the RF spectrum have been a concern of wireless service operators for a number of years in a variety of spectral bands. To try to get a handle on quantifying this assumed rising noise level and make suggestions on what perhaps could be done about it, the FCC released a Public Notice on June 15 announcing a Technical Inquiry on the subject by the FCC Technological Advisory Council (TAC). The FCC TAC is an advisory committee to the FCC, organized under the authority of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  While the TAC has had an advisory role at the FCC for well over a decade in various forms, the current instantiation of the TAC, chaired by Dennis Roberson from the Illinois Institute of Technology, was formed in 2010, comprised of an array of almost 50 technical experts in diverse fields, chartered to help the FCC identify important areas of innovation and develop informed technology policies.

In its Technical Inquiry the TAC “is investigating changes and trends to the RF spectrum noise floor to determine if there is an increasing noise problem, and if so, the scope and quantitative evidence of such problem(s), and how a noise study should be performed.” The TAC Technical Inquiry has been assigned an FCC docket number (ET 16-191) and will use the FCC Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) for collecting responses. However, this is an activity of the FCC TAC (specifically the RF Spectrum and Receiver Performance Working Group, of which the author is a co-chair), not the FCC itself.

Man-made noise is well known for having a serious impact on AM radio, FM radio and VHF television service.

The Technical Inquiry is aimed at assessing devices that are unintentional radiators (designed to use RF signals internally but not to radiate RF), incidental radiators (not designed to generate RF energy but do so as an operational result) as well as radiation from unlicensed devices and out-of-band emissions from licensed services.  Each of these classes of devices are subject to different FCC rules (or lack of rules) governing their allowable RF emissions. Submissions to ET Docket 16-191 on the Technical Inquiry will be accepted until August 11 and the TAC working group plans to assemble a report on the subject in the Fall with recommendations to the FCC on next steps. Since man-made noise is well known for having a serious impact on AM radio, FM radio and VHF television service (and UHF too, although to a lesser extent), this activity should be a topic of interest for all broadcasters.

For those interested in contributing data, anecdotes, opinions or other information to this request for information (remember, you can file early and often up until August 11!), the process is easy: access the FCC ECFS or just navigate to “Electronic Comment Filing System” from “Proceedings & Actions” on the FCC home page and then select Submit a Filing at the top of the page, fill out the form and upload your text.