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FCC Chair Wants to Go Forward With Use of White Spaces

Kim Hart

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said he wants to allow portable devices to use the airwaves between TV channels for wireless broadband service.

After months of testing and over a year of lobbying by tech firms Google, Microsoft, HP, Dell and others, the FCC's engineering office is releasing a report today that spells out the standards devices must meet in order to use the empty airwaves.

"I'm hoping to take advantage of utilizing these airwaves for broadband services to allow for unlicensed technologies and new innovations in that space," Martin said during a press conference with reporters. "This spectrum is very conducive to broadband service....the white spaces can be used as long as it does not interfere with broadcasters."

Broadcasters and wireless microphone makers have been opposed to this idea. Letting unlicensed devices use the airwaves, they say, would disrupt their broadcasts and the signals used in sports events and concerts.

Martin said he is circulating the report with other commissioners and hopes to vote on the item at the FCC's Nov. 4 meeting.

He said the portable devices must have sensing technologies as well as a geo-location database. This would make sure the devices would be able to detect nearby broadcasts in order to avoid those frequencies. The database would allow the device to automatically know which airwaves are in use at any given time, giving the broadcasters more protection from interference, he said.

In addition, large entertainment venues such as Nashville and New York would be able to be listed in that database so devices would avoid those frequencies used by wireless microphones. And devices would be restricted to lower power levels on airwaves adjacent to broadcasters.

It will still take time for manufacturers to develop devices and have them certified by the FCC. Devices that do not have both the sensing and geolocation technologies would have to go through an additional round of testing in FCC labs.

By Kim Hart  |  October 15, 2008; 2:32 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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I hope the FCC does not approve "backward" logic for determining channel vacancy, using the concept of protecting the nearest broadcasters, while ignoring more distant stations that are legitimately "in market." A 1-watt device on a first-adjacent channel has virtually no effect on a nearby station, but would cause unacceptable interference or desensitization for stations at a distance of, say, 25 miles.

Posted by: Philip J. Smith | October 15, 2008 4:57 PM

Some years ago, a goofy outfit from San Diego got permission from the FCC to try a digital TV experiment. There was no checking in with the local frequency coordinating committee. Channels 7 and 9 are active in Los Angeles. So these jerks put a 1 kilowatt digital transmitter on channel 8, this caused instant and continual noise on all channel 8 wireless microphones and stage manager headset intercom systems. In case you had not noticed, Los Angeles is the home of a majority of motion picture and television production in North America. The experiment was ended quickly.

Posted by: Bill | October 16, 2008 9:07 PM

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