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Media Chiefs Seek Delay on White Spaces Vote

The heads of News Corp., Disney, CBS and NBC Universal have jointly penned a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking that the FCC put out its white spaces report for public comment. 

The commission's release of the report two weeks ago resulted in a flurry of activity on the issue, including a call from Bill Gates to the chairman asking that the commission proceed with a planned vote Nov. 4 to authorize mobile, unlicensed devices in the DTV spectrum band. Martin also got a visit from Motorola CEO Greg Browning urging him to go ahead with the vote, saying the FCC has been debating the issue for more than four years. 

But in their letter, News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, NBCU's Jeffrey Zucker, Disney's Robert Iger and CBS' Leslie Moonves instead call for a comment period that would preclude that Nov. 4 vote, which they say is rushing toward an uncertain future that jeopardizes the DTV transition. 

The FCC may have been considering the issue for years, but it only recently concluded testing of prototype devices, like laptops. And the parents of the major networks don't like what they've seen, saying the report's conclusion is not supported by those tests and does not represent "the kind of solid scientific foundation the commission normally requires before proceeding to adopt a rule allowing a new service."

They argue that they are willing to work on a way to use the white spaces in the band, citing the broadband deployment benefit frequently invoked by computer companies pushing for the device. 

Broadcasters have not been opposed to fixed unlicensed devices using the band because they are easier to track. Recently, the Association for Maximum Service Television proposed what it called a compromise that would combine geo-location and remote sensing, in essence a sort of hybrid-fixed system, but at power levels (5 milliwatts) on channels adjacent to TV signals that are far below what the FCC has proposed (40 milliwatts). Computer companies wanted even higher power. 

In fact, the executives said that 40 milliwatt figure seemed more like a political compromise, saying "there is no data in the OET report that gives comfort that a 40 milliwatt device operating on the first adjacent channel in a market would not cause widespread interference disrupting television viewing for unacceptable numbers of viewers." 

An FCC source has told B&C there are likely at least three votes for the white spaces item, which would be enough to approve it, though those votes are not carved in stone, the source said.

Sports executives at a New York event Wednesday said they expected the FCC to proceed with the Nov. 4 approval, which they warned would "redefine the industry."