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Debate to delay 'white space' vote heats up

Lawmakers and professional sports groups are joining broadcasters in asking the FCC to delay a vote on opening some TV spectrum for unlicensed use.

Several lawmakers and professional sports organizations are urging the Federal Communications Commission to delay a vote on opening spectrum known as "white spaces" for unlicensed use.

On Friday, the Sports Technology Alliance, a trade group that represents eight major sports leagues, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and NASCAR, filed a petition with the FCC asking the agency to open up a comment period on a proposal that would open white-space spectrum for unlicensed use.


Several members of Congress, including eight who signed a single letter as well as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), have also sent letters to the FCC asking the agency to delay its planned November 4 vote on a white-space proposal.

The congressional leaders and sports leagues join the National Association of Broadcasters in asking for a 60-day comment period on the proposal.

"White spaces" are slivers of unused spectrum that sit between licensed broadcast channels in the 150MHz to 700MHz spectrum bands. The FCC tested several proof-of-concept devices this summer to see if companies can develop products that could use this spectrum without interfering with licensed spectrum services in these bands.

In a report released last week, the commission's Office of Engineering Technology concluded that for the most part devices with geolocation and sensing technologies could be used to avoid interference with broadcast TV channels. But tests regarding interference with wireless microphones, which also operate without an FCC license in that spectrum band, produced mixed results.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who supports the use of "white spaces," has already begun circulating a proposal for rules for white-space use that the agency will vote on at their open meeting on November 4.

Technology companies, such as Google and Microsoft, support the use of "white spaces," because they believe the spectrum can be used to help deliver new wireless broadband services. Earlier this week, Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel for Google, wrote a blog urging people to write to the FCC to make sure the vote occurs on November 4. Whitt called the current petitions to the FCC merely stall tactics used to "derail the technology before the rules of the road are even written."

"The enormous promise of white spaces is simply too great to get bogged down now in politics," he said. "We're less than two weeks away from a vote that could transform the way we connect to the Internet. The time for study and talk is over."

Tech industry: Critics have had plenty of time
As a group, the technology industry has also filed comments with the FCC. The White Spaces Coalition, which represents these companies, said in a petition filed this week with the FCC that white-space critics have had more than enough opportunity to comment on this issue.

"After more than four years, multiple notice and comment periods, multiple rounds of lab and field testing, and over 30,000 filings by the public, broadcasters now accuse the commission of a rush to judgment on the white spaces," the coalition said. The group went on to say that these critics have also already filed more than 16 oral and written presentations with regard to the engineering report to the FCC.

Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates also made a plea to the FCC this week to help move the process along. According to FCC filings, Gates talked to FCC commissioners and urged them to wrap up the issue by early November "to allow companies to begin the process of bringing the benefits of white spaces to consumers."

Not all lawmakers are opposed to voting on the white-space issue. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Chairman Martin urging the Commission to move forward and establish guidelines for the initial use of white-space technology as scheduled.

For its part, the FCC has said that it is considering all the petitions. But so far the agency has kept mum about whether it will delay the vote. Considering Chairman Martin's strong support for the vote, it seems unlikely the agency would delay its vote. But given the mounting pressure, it's difficult to say what it will do. So stay tuned.