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Martin: FCC Concludes White Spaces Devices Can Share DTV Spectrum

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Wednesday that the FCC will propose allowing mobile unlicensed devices to operate in the white spaces between DTV channels.

He says that the item is scheduled to be voted for in its Nov. 4 meeting.

Martin told reporters Wednesday that he was proposing allowing devices with both remote-sensing and geolocation capabilities--like laptops and so-called smart radios--to operate in the DTV band so long as they can tap into a database of broadcast TV channels in the area so they would not interfere with them.

He also said power levels would be more limited for devices operating on channels adjacent to TV channels than for other channels.

Martin said the FCC was proposing allowing the devices to operate at 100 milliwatts, but only 40 milliwatts on adjacent channels.

He said the FCC's white spaces report, which is being released today, concludes that the devices can be employed without interfering with broadcasts, and issue broadcasters argue with. The FCC has been testing prototype devices, with mixed results.

The caveat to the chairman’s announcement is that items that are announced for a vote do not necessarily make it to the final meeting agenda, as was the case with the low-power must-carry item for the Oct. 15 meeting.

A spokesman for Commissioner Robert McDowell said he had not finished going over the proposal and had no comment at press time.A spokesman for Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein had not comment.

David Donovan, who heads the Association for Maximum Service Television, told B&C that allowing 40 milliwatts of power on a first adjacent channel will "decimate over-the-air TV." MSTV has been a leading voice in opposition to allowing the unlicensed devices, arguing they could wreak havoc with DTV reception at the same time that the government is trying to convert the entire country to DTV.

"The testing by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that unlicensed devices relying exclusively on sensing will cause harmful interference to millions of consumers’ digital television sets and government subsidized converter boxes," said Donovan. 

Martin said he wants to utilize the spaces between broadcast services for broadband, and that they can be used so long as the devices do not interfere with broadcast channels.

He said the FCC testing was not about whether devices comply with existing rules and standards, but to instead use the tests to draw up those rules, saying that at times the devices worked, and at times didn't, but the testing allowed the FCC to go forward with drawing up rules.

Martin said the FCC will both put the report in the record and circulate an item to the commissioners establishing the rules for allowing white spaces devices.

Martin did not know when the unlicensed devices would become available if the item were adopted Nov. 4, but thought it would at least be a year for the devices with geolocation capability, and longer for those that need to be resubmitted.

Republican Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia, who has backed legislation to open up the spectrum, praised the white spaces proposal.

“I want to commend Chairman Martin for concluding that white space devices can be employed without interfering with broadcast signals," he said in a statement. "These promising white space technologies have the potential to offer enormous benefits to the public; providing nearly boundless possibilities for development and exploration by entrepreneurs and the prospect of providing low-cost wireless broadband service to Americans in rural areas. I commend the entire FCC for their work on this important matter and continue to encourage the Commission to move forward with a plan that allows these innovative technologies to come to fruition.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), another backer of white spaces legislation, added her plaudits, tying it to the economic recovery.

"“The FCC deserves commendation for carefully reviewing and ultimately recommending adoption of a White Space technology proposal," she said in a statement. "Wireless devices capable of operating in digital television’s unused white spaces will promote the next great wave of mobile broadband technology, which will in turn create jobs and drive new delivery for creative content.  During a time of potential economic uncertainty in the retail markets, the FCC’s decision provides a glimmer of hope for an industry capable of beating a path to economic recovery.”

The Computer and Communications Industry Association was equally pleased. Computer companies have been pushing for the devices as a way to expand wireless broadband access.

"We are very pleased if this important step is taken toward spectrum reform that will make new frequencies available for all sorts of innovation and new applications that will lead to economic growth across the natio," CCIA President Ed Black in a statement. "This growth can especially help areas underserved by legacy infrastructure."

“We are optimistic the voice of reason will now rise above the static in Washington to harvest the static between the broadcast stations. White spaces are likely the last best chance to make wireless spectrum available broadly that promotes universal access and robust competition.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, has also been fighting hard against the devices' use of  white spaces, or "interference zones," as NAB likes to call them. A spokesman had no comment, saying NAB would wait until it could review the FCC report.