Microsoft Presses for White Spaces Vote

Microsoft's Craig Mundie tells reporters "no justifiable reason" to delay FCC vote on proposed devices

Microsoft did some public lobbying today ahead of the FCC’s scheduled Nov. 4 vote on whether to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the so-called “white spaces” of the broadcast spectrum. 

Craig Mundie, Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer, hosted a conference call with reporters to explain why the FCC should move ahead with the vote and approve the devices. The call was made on behalf of the Wireless Innovation Alliance, which also counts Google and Dell as members.

Mundie conducted the call from Washington, D.C., where he met with FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein (D) in the morning and was scheduled to meet with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R) this afternoon. He said that he also planned to join Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates for a conference call with FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell (R) later today.

Microsoft has been interested in using broadcast spectrum to support wireless broadband access going back to 2002, said Mundie, when the company lobbied the FCC to set aside some reclaimed channels from the digital TV transition for that purpose. Broadcast spectrum is ideal for such applications, he said, both because of its ability to penetrate building walls and its wide geographic reach compared to wireless networking technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. That makes it especially important for bringing broadband access to rural areas, something that Commissioner Adelstein has continually pressed for.

“We find connectivity to be critically important,” said Mundie. “And as broadband connectivity becomes a part more and more of everybody’s daily life, we’re going to need more of it.”

Mundie dismissed requests by broadcasters that the FCC delay the vote and hold a public comment period on a report the FCC issued earlier this month which suggested that the proposed devices could work without unduly interfering with existing television operations. Broadcasters, sports leagues and theater owners say the FCC’s white-spaces report contradicts results from field tests of prototype devices, which showed the devices can’t accurately sense either wireless microphones or television stations operating in the broadcast spectrum.

There is “no justifiable reason” for the FCC to delay its scheduled vote next Tuesday on the white spaces issue, said Mundie, as the testing indicates that new wireless devices could operate in the broadcast band with “virtually no risk” to TV stations or wireless mics. He added that since the FCC testing was open to the public, no group can claim they were denied “due process” in considering the white spaces issue.

In particular, Mundie singled out the National Association of Broadcasters, which filed an emergency request with the FCC on Oct. 17 to delay the vote and open the report up for public comment.

“There is no reason to consider the emergency [request],” said Mundie. “This is probably the most open testing proceeding the FCC has every done for any wireless radio [petition].”

When it was pointed out that broadcasters’ main objection was not over the FCC’s level of disclosure but instead that the FCC’s report seems to conflict the field test data, Mundie said the prototype devices had performed well in sensing occupied broadcast channels.

“I haven’t actually personally reviewed the test data from the FCC, so I can’t comment radio by radio,” said Mundie. “But all of these things performed well in testing and sensing things where they should.”

Microsoft has lobbied for, and continues to lobby for, a proposal that would require only spectrum-sensing technology to be used in white-spaces devices. But Mundie said that Microsoft was now amenable to the FCC’s suggestion to require geo-location technology and databases of spectrum users to avoid interference from higher-powered white spaces devices, something that broadcasters and sports leagues say would be essential if white spaces devices were to actually be commercialized.

“We’re a strong supporter of that at this point,” said Mundie.

However, Microsoft doesn’t support lowering the power levels of theoretical white spaces devices below the 40 milliwatt level the FCC has suggested. While Fox has asked to limit power levels on devices operating on the first adjacent channel to a broadcaster to be set at 5 milliwatts, Mundie said that the devices need to operate in the 40- to 50- milliwatt range to be effective.

“If you over-constrain the power, then you bring it back into the range of Wi-Fi, and that would defeat the entire purpose,” he said.

Microsoft, however, was not the only player weighing in on the white spaces issue on Monday. Over 20 public interest, public policy and government watchdog groups, including the Government Accountability Project, Media Freedom Project, Americans for Tax Reform and the Liberty Coalition, sent a pair of letters to the FCC urging the commission to postpone the scheduled Nov. 4 vote. The groups say they are “concerned regarding various media reports that the FCC has abandoned a public comment period for proposed rules and will go straight to rulemaking” and also oppose the idea of making spectrum available for such devices for free.

And country-music star Dolly Parton has also weighed in on the white spaces issue. Parton sent a letter to the FCC Friday in which she asked the FCC to delay its vote, citing the potential impact unlicensed devices could have on wireless microphones in live concerts and musicals.

“With my extensive background in the entertainment industry, I can unequivocally confirm that the importance of clear, consistent wireless microphone broadcasts simply cannot be overstated,” wrote Parton. “This industry relies on wireless technology and is in jeopardy of being irreversibly devastated by the Commission’s pending decision.”