FCC Reiterates Preference for Unlicensed Wireless

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The FCC reiterated Thursday its preference to open up so-called white spaces in the broadcast band to unlicensed advanced wireless devices.

It has begun the process of opening up the space between TV station frequencies for advanced wireless services, but has not decided whether those should be licensed or unlicensed.

In a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing Thursday, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said there was a presumptive preference for unlicensed because it would allow for the new devices, and thus the more efficient use of the spectrum more quickly.

Asked by Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) about the white spaces issue, Martin explained that if the FCC had to first license the new uses, it would first have to identify just where the spaces were, which could potentially delay the process. Instead, he said, the preferable approach would be to insure against interference and then let the devices operate, allowing the government to more quickly and fully tap into new uses of the spectrum. Rolling out advanced broadband, including wireless delivery, is a priority for the commission.

Broadcasters are concerned that that scenario could lead to a land rush of new devices that would be hard to monitor and could lead to interference that could impede the transition to digital TV. In fact, the National Association of Broadcasters filed comments at the FCC Thursday asking it not to allow any unlicensed devices in the band.

Martin said Thursday the FCC could decide the unlicensed/vs. licensed issue as early as this spring.

Commissioner Michael Copps seconded Martin's preference for unlicensed, though he said it would have to strike a balance between the need of licensed and unlicensed users.