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Big Apple Takes Bite of White Spaces

The New York City Council got an earful Monday on the issue of white spaces.

The council is considering a resolution opposing the Federal Communications Commission's authorization of mobile unlicensed devices in the so-called white spaces between digital-TV channels. The resolution would not carry the force of law, but would simply let the FCC know how the council felt about the issue.

No action was taken on the resolution at the meeting, although none had been planned, one opponent of the measure said.

The FCC is currently testing the devices, and FCC chairman Kevin Martin has said that he would like to take some action by the end of the year.

Among those testifying at a hearing on the resolution was David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), who urged the council to "make its concerns known to the Federal Communications Commission.”

Donovan tailored his argument to his audience, saying that there was "no significant" unused spectrum in New York, and that "interference does not occur at the broadcast tower or at the facilities of the Empire State Building," but in the state's "living rooms and kitchens." He added that the impact would be "devastating."

Also at issue is the potential interference of the devices on wireless microphones, the kind used in Broadway shows. According to prepared testimony from microphone maker Shure, "If the new white-spaces devices have the potential for the debilitating interference to wireless microphones that was demonstrated during the FCC’s recent field tests at the Majestic Theater [a performance of The Phantom of the Opera], tens of thousands of wireless microphones deployed on a daily basis in New York City would quickly turn from completely reliable to randomly functional."

But Shure said its concern went beyond Broadway to "the smaller venues, night clubs, college sports broadcasts, churches, hotels and off-Broadway and nonprofit theaters that will feel an even bigger pinch from an ill-advised FCC decision, due to budget constraints in an increasingly challenging economic environment."

On the other side of the argument, according to prepared testimony, Free Press Campaign Director Timothy Karr argued against the resolution. He said that the devices can be made to work without interfering. He called it a developing technology that "can and will meet acceptable and certifiable standards of non-interference."

That squares with the general feelings expressed by FCC commissioners, who see the devices as a way to expand wireless broadband to unserved areas and more efficiently use spectrum, both of which are government priorities. But they have also said that they need assurances of that noninterference.

Karr sees the debate as one of haves vs. have nots. "The white spaces issue pits those who have access to spectrum, and want to keep it for themselves, against those who don't, and want spectrum to be used to serve other purposes as well."

 Karr argues that there will be 10 vacant channels in New York City after the DTV transition, or 20% of the band "sitting idle," which he called a lot of airspace that could be put to good use. "This resolution is not only unnecessary, but also a step in the wrong direction," he said.