White Spaces, White Knuckles


The National Association of Broadcasters has managed to collect a lot of mail from Capitol Hill on the issue of "white spaces" or "inteference zones," depending on who is describing them.

Those are the spaces between DTV channels that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Commissioners Michael Copps, Robert McDowell, computer companies, and others want to fill with unlicensed mobile devices more efficiently using the spectrum and spreading broadband service thoughout the land.

Problem is that, at least so far, the threat of interference from the devices to TV signals is sufficient to get lots of congressfolk uneasy.

The letters tend to take several forms. There is the "don’t do it at all," the "only allow fixed devices," the "only allow fixed, licensed devices," and the "only allow unlicensed, mobile devices if it can be shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will not mess up DTV reception." Add them up, and there is a lot of unease.

Martin initially wanted to approve the unlicensed regime by October, but the FCC is conducting more tests, the first ones showing interference all over the place, and the timetable is almost surely pushed back.

This is a tough issue to call. National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief, John Kneuer,said at a recent Hill hearing, that the admnistration favored allowing the devices, pointing out that elsewhere in the spectrum band the government had allowed them to share space with radar, which certainly needs to work free of interference.

On the other hand, we can’t even keep lead paint off our toys, so the prospect of unlicensed devices flooding the country from offshore is not a comforting one for NAB or anybody who wants to get a decent TV picture.

And given the recent reports that NASA is suppressing findings that there are a lot more near misses in the skies than we thought, maybe we should think again about sharing our radar space with unlicensed devices.

Just a thought.