White space questions remain
White space is making news again as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to review a plethora of petitions for reconsideration coming from entities that weren't happy when the Bush-appointed FCC, led by then Chairman Kevin Martin, unanimously approved the use of these unlicensed devices in November.
White-space spectrum — the unused slivers in the TV broadcast band — has been the subject of heavy debate. High tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and Motorola have been pushing the FCC for its use. Broadcasters and wireless microphone users — such as major sports leagues and entertainers — have opposed the idea, saying unlicensed white-space devices will create too much interference. Some public-safety entities have weighed in on the debate too. The Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness noted that broadcasters provide a vital emergency communications tool to the general public and urged the FCC to delay its vote to offer reasonable commentary on its technical report. Similar comments came from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.
The FCC now faces a lawsuit in a D.C. court over the matter. In February, the Association for Maximum Service Television and the National Association of Broadcasters filed a petition in the federal court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stop the FCC from enforcing the rules. These entities filed a petition in court rather than a petition of reconsideration with the FCC. The FCC recently asked the court for a delay on a ruling until the agency can address all of the petitions it has received.
The technical conditions the FCC imposed include requiring both fixed and portable devices to include geolocation and spectrum-sensing capabilities and use an FCC database that includes TV signals and the location of venues such as stadiums and concert arenas that use wireless microphones. These capabilities, said the FCC, would prevent interference and ensure compliance with commission rules. Geolocation technology maps the location of the device and compares it to the location of TV stations in an area.
The FCC also said devices that use only spectrum-sensing technology would be allowed, but only if they undergo additional certifications, including proof-of-performance tests. These tests would be made public and the public could comment on them. In the commission's initial engineering tests, spectrum-sensing technology — which is supposed to determine whether spectrum is clear before transmitting a signal — didn't pass with flying colors.
Given the controversy that continues to surround white spaces, it wouldn't behoove this new FCC to continue its engineering tests so it can give broadcasters and others some stronger evidence that white-space devices won't interfere with the operations of broadcasters and others.
I've questioned before how the FCC can effectively remove all equipment that is found to cause harmful interference to incumbents as the commission previously said it would closely oversee and monitor the introduction of white-space devices and said it would act promptly to remove from the market any equipment found to be causing harmful interference. It also said it would require the responsible parties to take appropriate actions to remedy any interference that may occur.
The new FCC certainly has a chance to create a more thoughtful approach to the issue, without stifling the potential of white space to create another successful WiFi-type market. It may just take a bit longer.
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