Three major technology vendors are pressing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to finish work on a 2-year-old technical proceeding that would allow new wireless devices to operate in unused television spectrum.
Representatives from Microsoft, Intel and Dell have cheered a new proposal in the U.S. Congress requiring the FCC to finish the proceeding on so-called white spaces unused by television stations in many U.S. markets. The Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act, a wide-ranging telecom reform bill to be debated Thursday in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, would set a deadline for the FCC to finish the white spaces proceeding.
The tech vendors want to build new wireless Internet devices that would locate unused spectrum designated for television use, but they can’t start designing the devices because of a lack of direction from the FCC, lawyers for the three companies said at a press briefing last week. Broadcasters have opposed the proposal, however.
Most television markets have several unused TV spectrum bands, and a greater use of white spaces could create a new demand for innovative wireless devices that can find unused spectrum, said Paula Boyd, regulatory affairs counsel for Microsoft. “The white spaces provide a greater opportunity for broadband deployment,” she said. “It provides an opportunity for consumers to get new and interesting services and products.”
The tech vendors said they see broadband as a major driver for greater demand of their current and future products.
The white spaces, which exist in spectrum that allows long-range transmissions, would allow Internet service providers to launch new wireless broadband networks, particularly in rural areas where broadband choices are limited, Boyd said. “We don’t expect services offered in the white spaces to compete nationwide with all other broadband technologies, but in pockets, it will offer some competition.”
But U.S. broadcasters have raised concerns that unlicensed wireless devices could interfere with their TV signals. The tech industry’s call for access to the white spaces comes as U.S. broadcasters are switching from analog to all-digital broadcasts, which will involve spectrum band changes, added Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.
In February, President Bush signed a bill requiring all U.S. broadcasters to end their analog broadcasts by Feb. 17, 2009. The transition to digital television will open up a chunk of spectrum in the upper 700MHz band for commercial wireless and public safety uses.
“We’re in the middle of a fairly delicate transition,” Wharton said. “The last thing we’d want is for people to not be able to receive local television services.”
The tech companies are willing to risk interference “just so they can sell new wireless services that may or may not work,” Wharton added.
But Ed Thomas, former chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, downplayed broadcaster concerns. The new wireless devices will use “milliwatts” of power, making it unlikely they will interfere with broadcast signals, and the FCC requires devices that interfere with licensed spectrum to be taken off the market until they’re fixed, he said.
Backers of new white space uses “are technically very smart and don’t like to put money down a hole,” Thomas said.
-Grant Gross, IDG News Service
Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.