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FCC Approves Microsoft As A White Space Database Adminstrator

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Microsoft to be a white spaces database administrator, despite its late filing and concerns raised by broadcasters opposed to the designation.

The FCC had already approved nine other entities, including Google Spectrum Bridge and Neustar, to oversee the databases, which unlicensed devices will have to check in with periodically to insure they are not using frequencies that will interfere with TV stations operating in the same frequency band.

Why so many administrators? The FCC decided to let "marketplace" forces shape the development of the database service, which will ultimately be overseen by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology [OET]."

The commission conceded that there could be some issues with so many cooks. "While the operation of multiple database administrators may present some coordination challenges," it said when it approved the initial nine, "we find it is in the public interest to have multiple parties developing business models for this new mechanism," it said, both now and as a test-bed for future sharing. "The value of this exercise extends beyond databases for the TV bands, as the Commission is also considering employing similar database approaches in other spectrum bands."

The FCC decided one more wouldn't hurt, although some broadcast engineers disagreed. Engineers for the Integrity of Broadcast Auxiliary Services had argued against letting Microsoft into the group because it had filed late; that it did not include relay and translator stations among those it would protect; and that Microsoft's test at the NAB convention raised some issues about its effectiveness.

Even though Microsoft did not ask to be included in that group until three months after the FCC had chosen the administrators, and well over a year since it had first asked for volunteers, the commission said there was nothing in the rules that prevented them from asking.

"We find that Microsoft has shown that it has the technical expertise to develop and operate a TV bands database. Moreover, as explained below, none of the concerns raised by any of the commenters in the record before us causes us to conclude that Microsoft is not capable of meeting all the requirements placed on database administrators by the Commission's rules," said OET in granting the approval.

The FCC approved the sharing of the so-called "white spaces"  -- broadcasters call them "interference zones" -- in the TV spectrum by unlicensed devices, like laptops and other devices using Microsoft software, so long as a database was set up to keep track of what frequencies were actually available.

Google and Microsoft were among the companies pushing the FCC hardest to open up the "white spaces," while broadcasters pushed back over potential interference to their new DTV signals. The tension between broadcasters and Microsoft over the issue goes back years. For example, there were some problems with early testing of a Microsoft device back in 2008 that prompted a war of words between the company and broadcasters.

All the databases must undergo a 45-day test period before they can go live.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.