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An Advertising Battle in the War Over White Spaces

Kim Hart

The war over white spaces heated up in Washington today with the start of full-blown advertising campaigns targeting members of Congress.

Google, Microsoft and other tech companies are pushing for the ability to use empty, unlicensed airwaves, known as white spaces, to provide high-speed Internet service that might be able to serve hard-to-reach rural regions and supplement other Internet services in cities. But opponents of this idea, namely television broadcasters who use adjacent airwaves, say white-space use can interfere with regular TV signals and could blot out over-the-air broadcasts.

These two camps have been fighting over the issue for some time now, and the advertising campaigns mark the beginning of much more aggressive lobbying tactics on both sides.

The National Association of Broadcasters, along with the Association for Maximum Service Television, today started running ads in Capitol Hill publications including Congress Daily, Roll Call, Politico, Congressional Quarterly, Communications Daily and The Hill. The ads point out that the experimental devices made by the likes of Microsoft, Philips Electronics and Motorola have not yet passed FCC testing. "If the devices fail in pristine lab conditions, can you really trust them in the real world?," the ad says.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance, which includes Google, Microsoft, HP and Dell, are countering that message with its own ads in Congress Daily, Politico.com, The Hill, Roll Call and Congress Daily, to name a few. The alliance agrees that the device is nowhere near certification and needs more tests, but is urging lawmakers to let science run its course. The alliance's ad shows an old TV set with the caption "If the NAB had its way, this would be your living room." It goes on say the NAB has opposed other now-mainstream technologies--FM Radio, Cable TV, VCRs-- for the same reasons in the past.

The alliance says it thinks it is possible to produce a device that detects and avoids broadcast programming so it will not interfere with existing signals. Broadcasters are skeptical, and the makers of wireless microphones for sporting events, concerts and churches, which also use this unlicensed spectrum, say the technology could put their productions at risk. They support auctioning off those fallow airwaves and making them licensed in order to protect against interference.

While these ads and lobbying efforts are directed at members of Congress, the FCC will ultimately decide if this technology is possible. The agency plans to issue a report later this year.

By Kim Hart  |  April 8, 2008; 5:07 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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