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White Spaces: Hot Issue

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has told Congress that the commission did conduct a peer review of an FCC engineers' report on white spaces testing, and that it concluded the tests were “well done and thorough.”

He made the claim despite a chorus of protests from broadcasters, sports leagues, concert producers, religious broadcasters, legislators and musicians—from Dolly Parton to Guns N' Roses and 100 others.

They're asking the commission to reconsider holding a vote on allowing mobile, unlicensed devices to operate in the so-called “white spaces” of the digital spectrum. The planned Nov. 4 vote remained on the commission's agenda.

Martin was responding to a letter from House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who had questions about the testing, including chiefly whether the FCC had the report reviewed.

The report concluded that unlicensed mobile devices could be designed to operate in the so-called “white spaces” between TV channels, despite broadcasters' and others' concerns they would interfere with DTV reception and wireless microphones. The tests themselves confirmed those problems.

At presstime, the chairman was reportedly working on locking down a third vote.

Computer companies want to be able to use the white spaces between TV channels for wireless broadband and other advanced wireless services. Companies like Google, Motorola, Dell, Intel and IBM have showered the FCC with letters encouraging the vote to take place.

Some 50 members of Congress have expressed concern over the FCC's proposed action. One bipartisan letter from 28 House members urged the commission to delay its scheduled vote and seek public comment on the white spaces rulemaking, citing unfavorable results in an FCC report on field testing of prototype devices this summer.

In their letter, the legislators said the prototype devices “failed to differentiate between an occupied and unoccupied TV channel nearly 33% of the time.”