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Copps Not Convinced White Spaces Technology Is There Yet

Democratic commissioner Michael Copps said Thursday that he agreed that there is a lot of confusion over Federal Communications Commission testing of unlicensed mobile devices for possible use in the digital-TV spectrum band, saying that making the technology work is "imperative" but adding that it doesn't seem to be there yet.

Copps said he thought the FCC "needs to have some clarity" as it proceeds, but added that he is "a believer in white spaces," saying that using them "is not only desirable, but imperative."

Computer companies want to use remote, unlicensed spectrum-sensing devices -- personal digital assistants, laptops -- that are designed to sense and use available spectrum in the space between DTV channels.

Broadcasters have been fighting the move -- including in a new radio campaign launched this week -- arguing that allowing unlicensed devices in the band could interfere, literally, with the digital transition. They pointed to two sets of FCC tests, one showing that DTV receivers would suffer interference from the devices and the other that the devices failed to accurately sense out unused channels -- computer companies said the device in the latter test was faulty and the FCC is retesting.

Copps said he was confident that the technology was ultimately workable -- an opinion shared by FCC chairman Kevin Martin. But Copps also said that he was not "100% certain … that the time is right this minute."

He said he hoped it would be soon, but added: "I have to be convinced that this is going to work. We can't have interference to DTV after we have gone through all of these exercises to get people right with the DTV transition and tell them to go out and buy this and buy that and everything else, and we make a mistake on white spaces, and they turn it on and they have the converters and everything, and they turn on the set, and there is no picture there. I don't want to be around when that happens."

On another DTV issue, the National Association of Broadcasters has not yet said whether broadcasters would run DTV-education public-service announcements in primetime, with DTV-education guru Jonathan Collegio saying that all would be made clear at a mid-October rollout (delayed from a planned Sept 24 announcement).

Asked whether he would support a rule mandating primetime airings of the PSAs, Copps said he would hope for a coordinated and cooperative approach to education, adding, "Maybe you and I would like to see a little more urgency attached to this part or that part. If there are mandatory actions that are called for to get the job done because the job has to be done, I would consider them, but I think it is a little premature."

He also said the campaign is about more than PSAs, adding that he didn't want to have “broadcasters saying, ‘We'll do all these PSAs on DTV,’ and then there are no PSAs on anything else."