Opinion: FCC approves “white space” use


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The Federal Communications Commission did something remarkable today: over the strident opposition of television broadcasters and some wireless phone companies, it unanimously approved a proposal to let a new generation of wireless devices use empty TV channels. As the Times’ editorial board urged last week, the commission found a middle ground that recognized broadcasters’ interests without being captive to them. It set relatively low power limits on the so-called ‘white space’ devices, and it imposed stringent performance standards to keep them from transmitted on channels used by local stations and wireless microphones. It also barred the devices from using certain channels in major markets, clearing some electromagnetic real estate there for wireless mics. The result -- if all goes well -- is an explosion of innovation in networking and communications devices similar to what’s happened with WiFi technology.

The power limits could make it difficult for the airwaves to create local high-speed Internet access networks, but the commission left the door open to manufacturers to demonstrate the feasibility of more powerful devices. It also launched a new inquiry into the possibility of more powerful white-space devices in rural areas with few broadcasters.


Not surprisingly, the decision brought a quick denunciation from broadcasters and their allies, who complained about the potential for interference with cable TV (a problem the FCC’s engineers blamed on porous cable connections), wireless mics (used by news and sports reporters, theaters and concert performers) and TV channels themselves (when the white-space devices transmit on channels next to the ones used by local stations). Here’s what Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Assn. of Broadcasters, said:

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. By moving the ‘white space’ vote forward, the Commission appears to have bypassed meaningful public or peer review in a proceeding of grave importance to the future of television. Fortunately, today’s vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information. Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV.

Thems fightin’ words. As little as I trust government regulators to get out of the way of ‘innovative broadband applications,’ I trust incumbent spectrum holders even less.