The Unending 'White Spaces’ Debate

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At least 31 members of Congress have sent letters to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin over the commission’s intention to allow the use of unlicensed personal-portable devices that would operate in the so-called “white spaces” of the broadcast spectrum that are reserved for television broadcasting. Initial tests by the FCC concluded the devices could interfere with television signals, so the commission has held back. Below is an excerpt of a letter by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, (R-Maine) whose comments are typical of the others:

I am writing you in regard to the recent report the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) released on its initial testing of television white space devices.

Given the unfavorable and inconsistent findings, I urge the Commission to conduct more comprehensive preliminary testing and not rush to develop new rules on this issue before the appropriate scrutiny has been applied.

There is no question of the tremendous consumer benefit that can be reaped from the utilization of TV white space, primarily with rural broadband development.

However, we shouldn’t allow this amazing potential to cloud our judgment in performing the essential due diligence to ensure these unlicensed devices won’t interfere with over-the-air broadcasts.

With the test results that were compiled, I am deeply concerned about the significant implications that could occur with respect to the DTV transition if the Commission and Congress hastily move forward with any rulemaking or legislation.

Many in Congress, including myself, are troubled about current state of the DTV transition due to the lack of consumer awareness. We don’t want to needlessly undermine this critical effort by prematurely permitting the use of these devices.

My concern is also compounded by a recent admission from the OET Engineer Julius Knapp, who stated that more valuable testing could have been performed if they were “less constrained by time.” If necessary the FCC should delay its rulemaking deadline.

I have long been an ardent advocate of increasing broadband deployment in rural areas because these areas have the most to gain from broadband since it and the Internet can remove geographical barriers, globalize local markets, and be a catalyst to economic development. But we must not aggressively pursue any technologies to foster growth in this area if it is at the expense of other critical technologies and services.

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