FCC Engineers Absent From White Spaces Meeting

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FCC engineers whose report paved the way for the FCC to potentially approve mobile unlicensed devices in the broadcast band were not given permission to attend a meeting at the FCC Friday (Oct. 31) about, among other things, their own report. That’s according to sources including an FCC source with knowledge of the meeting.

That source said nobody from the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) was present at a meeting at the commission among broadcasters and top aides to the FCC commissioners about the White Spaces issue. "OET would have to get permission from the chairman’s office to attend," said the commission source, "They did not get that permission." 

Several sources said it was not unusual, but also suggested that was because the chairman’s office kept too tight a rein on access to staffers.

Another commission source suggested the request for OET participation did not come with much lead time–"There were still people around to ask," said a broadcast source–though he added that having to clear discussions with engineering staffers through the chairman’s office first was problematic as a matter of process.

"Members of the OET staff including its engineers are available for meetings and discussions with members of the commissioners officers and the commissioners themselves," a spokesman for the chairman told B&C. "However, members of the OET staff are not to be included in the debate or be required to answer questions from lobbying groups."

A least one commissioner had asked for the engineers to be present since FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s planned Nov. 4 vote to approve the devices was based on the conclusions of FCC testing of the unlicensed mobile devices and a resulting report, both overseen by OET. The FCC tests showed problems with the devices, but the report concluded there was sufficient "proof of concept" to allow the FCC to write rules of the road for their use

Broadcasters argue the tests did not support the conclusion reached and want the FCC to put off a vote until the public can comment on its conclusion. But that horse appears to have already left the barn.

Computer companies like microsoft and Dell are pushing the FCC to approve the devices–like laptops–for wireless broadband delivery, arguing they can be made not to interfere with TV signals or wireless mikes.

Despite pushback from half a hundred legislators–state and federal–musician, sports producers, broadcasters, wireless microphone makers and others, the FCC is expected to vote to approve allowing the devices, though with timetables and caveats about certification and testing that might help assuage some critics, though likely not broadcasters.

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