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White Spaces Jockeying Continues

Proponents and opponents of using unlicensed wireless devices in unused parts of the broadcast spectrum, the so-called “white spaces,” continue to vigorously lobby the Federal Communications Commission with only a week left until the commission’s vote on the issue.

Some 28 members of Congress have sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC urging the commission to delay its scheduled Nov. 4 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. The lawmakers expressed concerns over the devices’ interference with both wireless microphones and cable television systems, and said that

“further clarity on the report’s policy conclusions is needed,” as the prototype devices "failed to differentiate between an occupied and unoccupied TV channel nearly 33% of the time.”

"Given the potential impact of this decision on American television viewers, surely the Commission should take the time to more thoroughly evaluate these test results before formulating final rules,” declared the letter, which was signed by Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Howard Coble (R-NC), J. Gresham Barrett (R-SC), Sue Myrick (R-NC), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Al Green (D-TX), Thomas Price (R-GA), Lincoln Davis (D-TN), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Steve LaTourette (R-OH), Henry Brown (R-SC), Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Collin Peterson (D-MN), Christopher Shays (R-CT), Jim Jordan (R-OH), C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D-MD), Jo Bonner (R-AL), Sanford Bishop Jr. (D-GA), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Tim Walz (D-MN), Heath Shuler (D-NC), John Barrow (D-GA), Mike Michaud (D-ME), and John McHugh (R-NY).

The lawmakers’ letter follows Monday missives to the FCC from NAB president and CEO David Rehr and NCTA senior vice president Daniel Brenner, which both stressed the grave implications of interference to existing TV services by proposed white spaces devices and urged the commission to postpone the vote and hold a public comment period.

The NAB asked for the FCC to maintain an expected level of “transparency and due process” in the white spaces proceeding, particularly with the proposed devices’ potential negative impact on the digital TV transition.

The NCTA’s letter cited FCC test data that showed white spaces devices operating at even very low power can cause interference with cable TV systems, and pointed out that “there seems to be a complete disconnect between what the Commission’s technical analyses have shown and what the Commission is proposing to adopt. The potential harmful effects of proposed TV band devices on cable consumers have been established by the FCC itself.”

Meanwhile, key members of the Wireless Innovation Alliance have sent their own letters to the FCC urging Chairman Kevin Martin to go ahead with the Nov. 4 vote, including Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt, Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell and The Technology CEO Council, which represents Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM and EMC, among others.

Dell urged Martin to “resist calls for delay and efforts to handcuff this new technology through unnecessary restrictions,” while Schmidt commended Chairman Martin for his “leadership in this area” and encouraged him to move ahead with his planned vote on whether to approve the devices. Schmidt predicted that by taking advantage of “fallow spectrum,” white spaces technology will have a similar impact to how consumers connect to the Internet as the advent of Wi-Fi wireless networking. He also dismissed the concerns of broadcasters and other white-spaces opponents as “last minute politics as usual.”

“We are eight days away from a vote that could transform the way we connect to the Internet,” said Schmidt. “Your vote will spark technological innovation in the U.S. directly and globally. The time for study and talk is over. The time for action has arrived.”