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McDowell Sees Workable Unlicensed Mobile Device Sharing DTV Spectrum

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, for one, is confident that unlicensed mobile devices can eventually be allowed to share the broadcast spectrum with digital TV stations.

McDowell has long been a strong advocate of unlicensed devices in the so-called "white spaces"--he prefers "gray spaces" since there are current operators in those spaces. But recent FCC testing has raised questions about the current crop of those devices, though the FCC is retesting after computer companies blamed faulty equipment rather than the underlying technology.

McDowell , in a speech to a spectrum policy group in Washington Monday, said that the FCC has a duty to make sure the devices do not cause "harmful interference" to the current occupants of the band--the broadcasters making the leap to digital. The devices, PDA's laptops--sense out--or broadcasters would say "attempt to sense"--available broadcast spectrum.

But McDowell also said he was confident that the technology could be perfected if science, not politics, informed the process.

"I expect the discussions will become ever more intense as we move forward," he said. "But, at the end of the day, we will have a resolution.  Inventors will continue to invent, and a workable technical solution will develop."  A staffer confirmed he was indicating he believed a workable unlicensed mobile device would be produced.

"We should let science, and science alone, drive our decisions.  If we don’t pollute science with politics, powerful new technologies will emerge, and American consumers will benefit as a result.

Broadcasters have been pushing hard against the mobile unlicensed devices, and computer companies just as hard for them. 

Broadcasters argue that the FCC must not base a policy on the expectation that a non-interfering device can be developed because it is gambling with the TV reception of hundreds of millions of people, and with devices that, because unlicensed, will be tough if not impossible to monitor. Computer companies argue that broadcasters are being overprotective, that valuable spectrum is lying fallow as a result and that the technology works, just not some of the devices supplied for initial FCC testing.