Google's 'White Space' Plan

Seeks spectrum compromise; broadcasters say 'no way'

Google is trying to convince the FCC that it holds a compromise on the contentious issue of sharing spectrum space with new digital TV channels.

The company is hoping to win over some converts in the broadcast community as well as the government, but broadcasters counter that unlicensed devices, such as laptops and spectrum-sensing radios, and DTV channels cannot co-exist.

The issue is contentious because broadcasters say the devices will interfere with DTV reception and wireless mikes just as TV stations across the country are making the switch to all-digital.

The FCC is considering whether to allow unlicensed devices to share the swath of spectrum that is being used for digital-TV broadcasts. It has indicated a preference to do so, but the commissioners have said it cannot come at the price of interference with the DTV transition.

Google says it wouldn't accept that interference either. In a letter to the commission touted in a conference call with reporters, the technology giant built on online search said it was searching for the right combination of safeguards that it claims would protect TV stations and wireless microphones from interference. The industry, however, is unpersuaded.

The company is looking to get commissioners and maybe even some of its opponents to support rules allowing unlicensed wireless devices to use the “white spaces” between TV channels after the Feb. 18, 2009, switch to digital.

Rick Whitt, Google's telecommunications and media counsel and the author of the letter, concedes that the proposal had “glommed onto” one submitted earlier by Motorola, which suggested that no device would transmit on a channel until it receives an “all clear” signal for that channel, either directly from a database of licensed transmitters in that area or from a geo-located device with access to that database. In addition, Whitt says wireless microphones can be fitted with an “inexpensive” device that sends out a beacon that would block any device from using the channel.

However, according to Whitt, Google has added the inducement of setting aside channels as a safe harbor for wireless microphones, used by TV sports and news producers as well as theaters and churches. Whitt also suggests that the white spaces would be a great place for the open-source mobile consumer devices that Google is working on as part of its Android project.

Whitt says the company had preliminary discussions with FCC staffers, but did not yet have a read on how the proposal had been received.

The same could not be said for TV stations. The National Association of Broadcasters stated flatly last week that there is no compromise position on unlicensed devices. Asked if there is anything Google or others could do to convince broadcasters to share the band with those devices, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said no.

“We have never opposed these kinds of devices so long as they are fixed and licensed by the FCC,” Wharton told B&C. “Let Google buy the spectrum in an FCC-authorized auction and have the FCC police these products so they don't destroy digital television.”

“We certainly don't think it will destroy digital,” counters Steve Sharkey, senior director of regulatory and spectrum policy for Motorola. “Our proposal provides rock-solid protection for the broadcasters and incumbents in the band.

Microphone maker Shure shot down the proposal, saying that channel 37 is off limits to microphones because of its use for medical telemetry, and that channels 36 and 38 are already being used by DTV stations as well as low-powers and translators in many markets.

“Even if channels 36 and 38 were available in every market,” says Shure spokesman Mark Brunner, “this amount of spectrum would be grossly inadequate to produce a major convention or sporting event.”


NRB Warns FCC on White Spaces

National Religious Broadcasters: Allowing unlicensed mobile devices to share spectrum band with TV stations, wireless microphones could be 'one of the greatest technical blunders in our nation's history.'