[opendtv] News: Tech firms win victory with FCC 'white spaces' vote

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2008 04:25:58 -0500


Tech firms win victory with FCC 'white spaces' vote

Google, Microsoft pressed for approval to use TV bands for Internet services
By John Letzing, MarketWatch

Last update: 6:47 p.m. EST Nov. 4, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Large technology companies including Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. won a years-long, intensive lobbying battle with television broadcasters and telecom companies on Tuesday when the Federal Communications Commission voted to authorize the unlicensed use of "white spaces" spectrum.

Companies including Google, Microsoft, Intel Corp. and others have been pressing the FCC to allow the unlicensed use of the so-called white spaces, which they argue will dramatically expand access to the Internet.

But the companies have been countered by a wide array of opponents, including the National Association of Broadcasters, as well as the largest U.S. television networks and telecom companies including Sprint Nextel Corp.

Dolly Parton sent a letter fretting over whether white-spaces use will interfere with wireless microphones used for live performances.

Opponents say unlicensed use of the white spaces -- bands of spectrum that will be freed up following the switch to digital-television broadcasts next year -- may interfere with TV reception and wireless microphones.

However, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin noted that the approval of the rules authorizing use of the white spaces include provisions meant to protect TV broadcasts and microphones. For example, Martin said, any device offered by a technology company for use on the white spaces will have to go through a "rigorous certification process."

Martin also noted that FCC engineers already had taken the "extra step" of undertaking months of testing of white-spaces devices, to determine whether they can be used without interfering with other broadcasts and microphones.

Google co-founder Larry Page wrote in an online posting that the FCC's approval of white spaces use is "a clear victory for Internet users and anyone who wants good wireless communications." "Google has worked hard on this matter with other tech companies and public-interest groups because we think that this spectrum will help put better and faster Internet connections in the hands of the public," he said.

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, added that the unanimous FCC vote "ushers in a new era of wireless broadband innovation."

"We look forward to playing our part in helping to realize the wireless broadband potential of the white spaces," he said.

Bill Gates on the line

The politically powerful National Association of Broadcasters criticized the FCC's decision, and issued a statement late Tuesday vowing that "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."

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement that "every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today's Commission vote."

Last month, Martin signaled his intention to bring the white-spaces matter to a vote, spurring the NAB to launch a campaign to stave off the move by forcing the commission to seek out further public comment.

The NAB's campaign has enlisted everyone from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., to entertainer Dolly Parton.

Clinton joined a number of other lawmakers in publicly questioning whether the FCC should move forward quickly on allowing unlicensed use of the white spaces, while Parton sent a letter to the agency fretting over whether white-spaces use will interfere with wireless microphones used for live performances -- including her planned musical version of the film "9 to 5."

The political back-and-forth over the white spaces also recently prompted a personal phone call to Martin from Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and co-founder. Gates encouraged the FCC chairman to press ahead on opening up the white spaces for unlicensed use, even though Gates has stepped back from the software giant's day-to-day operations.

Microsoft, along with Google and others, stands to benefit greatly from the use of the white spaces. That's because the broadly available but unused spectrum could enable much wider access to the Internet services that they offer.

However, Microsoft's efforts to contribute to the white spaces lobbying effort have not always been constructive.

For example, prototypes submitted by Microsoft for white-spaces testing by FCC engineers have suffered technical glitches, handing ammunition to the tech companies' opponents. See related story.

FCC engineers have spent months doing laboratory and field testing of prototypes designed to prove that unlicensed use of the white spaces won't interfere with TV broadcasts. Those prototypes have been submitted by Microsoft, Philips Electronics NV, Motorola and closely held Adaptrum Inc.

John Letzing is a MarketWatch reporter based in San Francisco.

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