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Dolly Parton enters 'white space' debate

The country music artist joins broadcasters in their fight to delay the FCC vote on whether to open up so-called white space spectrum for unlicensed use.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

When Dolly Parton speaks people listen. At least that's what opponents to an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on opening up "white space" spectrum hope.

Earlier this week, country western star Dolly Parton sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to delay its vote to open up the unused spectrum for unlicensed use.

"As someone who uses the white spaces and knows the value of them for the work that I and many of my friends around the country, I ask the FCC to recognize the entertainment industry's valuable contribution to the cultural life," Parton wrote in her letter. "I can unequivocally confirm that the importance of clear, consistent wireless microphone broadcasts simply cannot be overstated. This industry relies on wireless technology and is in jeopardy of being irreversibly devastated by the commission's pending decision."

Parton is just one of several performers who in the past week have joined the fight against opening up so-called white space spectrum. In addition to Parton, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, Clay Aiken, and Guns N' Roses have also joined together in signing a letter to the FCC asking it to delay a vote on white spaces.

Several religious leaders including mega-church pastor Joel Osteen have also sent letters to the FCC asking for a delay as has the chairman of the MGM Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

This flood of opposition comes one week before the FCC is expected to vote on a proposal that would open up unused white space wireless spectrum that is currently used to buffer broadcast channels for unlicensed use.

After months of testing, the FCC's engineering office released a report two weeks ago essentially giving the green light to the FCC to allow unlicensed users to access this spectrum.

The report noted that geo-location technology, which uses a database to help devices identify and avoid spectrum bands known to already be in use, worked very well in avoiding interference. But the report's results were less conclusive about the use of sensing technology that would help prevent interference between white space devices and wireless microphones.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has already crafted a proposal in support of opening up the spectrum. But opponents say that the public should be given more time to review and comment on the report. /p>

Technology companies, which say opening up white space spectrum could create new wireless broadband services, say the time for comments is over. And it's time for the FCC to move the matter forward.

Sensing the public relations circus that is mounting around the opposition to this issue, several technology luminaries gave voice to their cause this week. Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Dell founder Michael Dell, and Microsoft founder and former CEO Bill Gates, have all sent letters and made calls to the FCC this week to encourage the agency to move forward with its planned vote.

Google has even mounted an online petition campaign to show support from consumers on the issue. On Tuesday, the company noted that more than 20,000 consumers support its FreeTheAirwaves.com petition online. Nearly 2,000 of those petitions supposedly were submitted to the FCC since Thursday, which was when the company posted a call to action on its Official Google Blog.

The big question now is whether the FCC will be swayed by singers Parton and Diamond's pleas for more time, or if the five-person commission will listen to Schmidt and Gates. At this point, I suppose it's anyone's guess. But my bet is still with Google and Microsoft.