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FCC opens ‘white space’ despite protests

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Nov. 4 to place unlicensed devices in broadcast TV spectrum, called white space.

The FCC action’s will allow technology companies such as Google and Microsoft to use white, or open-air, space to deliver wireless broadband Internet into homes. White space serves to separate TV channels, preventing interference between them. Unlicensed devices include such items as wireless broadband services, wireless multimedia systems, Palm Pilots and other PDAs, and cordless telephones.

The 5-0 vote by the FCC came despite opposition from large numbers of broadcasting organizations, companies, lawmakers and churches. Churches are concerned the loss of white space in TV spectrums may cause interference problems for preachers, worship leaders and vocalists who use wireless microphones.

“While we appreciate the FCC’s attempt to address significant issues raised by broadcasters and others, every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today’s Commission vote,” Dennis Wharton, vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), said in a written statement.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television (MSTV), said TV is the cornerstone of America’s communications infrastructure and the risk of interference at a time when consumers are switching from analog to digital TV is misguided. That changeover will be complete in February 2009.

“The Commission chose a path that imperils American’s television reception in order to satisfy the ‘free’ spectrum demands of Google and Microsoft,” Donovan said in a written statement. “White space proponents stated they plan to increase interfering power levels until they achieve this objective.”

Donovan said the FCC ignored more than 50 letters written by members of Congress and failed to place an important engineering report out for public comment. The FCC’s data fails to show there will not be interference problems, and the decision to place unlicensed devices in TV spectrum is breathtaking, he said.

“What we have here is a plan by the government that will not only harm all TV viewers but also potentially interfere with wireless microphones, news reporters and entertainers,” Donovan told Baptist Press.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin defended the decision, saying opening white space would create “WiFi on steroids.” He said the decision would improve wireless broadband connectivity and bring about a new array of Internet-based products and services for consumers.

The FCC conducted testing to find if white space devices would create interference with broadcast operations. The commissioners agreed the Office of Engineering and Technology’s Oct. 15 report did not present a risk of interference for broadcasters.

In order to ensure broadcast licensees’ protection, Martin said white space devices would undergo a “certification process” before operating in TV spectrums.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein was pleased with the decision to place unlicensed devices in vacant channels. He said it was the commissioners’ job to maximize the use of white space without causing interference.

“Our balanced approach in this order provides the flexibility and low barriers to entry needed to provide an opportunity for everyone to make the best use of this under-used spectrum,” Adelstein said. “It also implements safeguards to protect those that already make a valuable use of the spectrum.”

Despite assurances from the FCC, broadcasters departed the Nov. 4 meeting concerned, while computer companies left happy after the vote, John Eggerton, Washington bureau chief of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, told BP.

“Fortunately, today’s vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on TV for news, entertainment and lifesaving emergency information,” Wharton said. “Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV.”
Elizabeth Wood is an intern in the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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