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Mobile Device Backers Optimistic On FCC Vote

Backers of using unlicensed mobile white spaces devices in the DTV spectrum band weren't popping the champagne corks just yet, but one former FCC engineer said Thursday he liked their chances of getting a scheduled agenda item voted by the commission, not always an easy thing these days.

Broadcasters counter that the commissioners will want more deliberation on issue.

After FCC engineers concluded it was feasible to allow the devices, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has proposed permitting devices like laptops to use the space between DTV channels for services like wireless broadband and home networking.

But while Martin has scheduled a Nov. 4 vote on the item, he also scheduled a vote on the low-power carriage item for this week, then had to pull it from the agenda after he could not muster any of the other votes needed for passage as proposed.

But Ed Thomas, former FCC chief engineer and a lobbyist for computer and other companies pushing for white spaces devices, says that his folks have been in contact with the other commissioners and he is optimistic the order will be voted.

"At the end of the day, the chairman has said he would like to move forward and get it done at the November meeting," said Thomas in a conference call with reporters. "There is no predicting what the other commissioners are going to do," he said, but added that: "we have been in communications with [them] and we are extremely optimistic that this won't have the problems of other proceedings."

"As usual, Ed Thomas is wrong," said David Donovan of the Association for Maximum Service Television, which represents broadcasters on spectrum issues. "The commissioners will thoroughly examine this report, will realize the data in the report is absolutely inconsistent with the conclusions, and will want future deliberations. I would believe that the commissioners are more concerned with the successful digital transition than adopting failed technology that threatens that transition."

 Ben Scott of Free Press, who actually may have popped some champagne since he explained his horse voice as the result of celebrating the white spaces item, agreed with Thomas. He pointed to all the commissioners' general support for using the white spaces [though all have conditioned it on not interfering with the DTV transition]. He also pointed to the bipartisan support for white spaces legislation, whose backers include both Democrats Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and John Kerry (D-MA), and Republican Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and John Sununu (R-NH).

Free Press is pushing for the devices as a way to expand broadband access to underserved communities. Scott told reporters that framing the issue as computer companies vs. broadcasters or start-ups vs, entrenched interests tended to obscure that point.