Commentary

Frantic Buzz Of Opinions Color White Spaces Debate

The debate about whether to use white spaces for broadband is growing increasingly frenetic, with broadcasters, performers and consumer advocates now sending out bulletins daily, and in some cases hourly, advocating for their positions.

Leading the charge against unlicensed use of white spaces, or the vacant airwaves between TV channels, is the National Association of Broadcasters. That group, along with television network heads, warns that harnessing the white space spectrum for broadband could interfere with TV programs.

Also opposed to the plan are current users of wireless microphones, including Broadway theaters, musicians and other live performers. They've been squatting on the airwaves for up to 30 years now, and don't want to risk having their sound fade out because someone has set up a nearby wireless broadband network.

Ironically, these current unlicensed users have given some ammunition to those who advocate a rule change. If Broadway theaters have been able to use the white space spectrum for so long without interfering with TV, why would other unlicensed users cause interference?

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Two weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission released test results showing what it called "proof of concept" that white spaces could be used without interference, provided precautions like spectrum-sensing techniques were taken.

But broadcasters dispute the FCC's interpretation of that test. They say they need more time to study the tests and submit comments to the agency. Earlier this week, the FCC published the results of a peer review of the test, but opponents are still raising questions.

Today, the Association for Maximum Service Television, a 52-year-old group dedicated to broadcasting technology and spectrum policy issues, asked the FCC to provide more information about the tests and peer review.

To proponents of wireless broadband, these moves are nothing more than stall tactics. They argue that even if the FCC votes Tuesday to approve use of white spaces for broadband, it will take months before any specific devices have been cleared for use.

Given the sorry state of competition among Internet service providers, and the low rates of broadband penetration among lower-income homes, making broadband more available should be a priority.

Even TV networks that are opposing the white spaces plan so vigorously have something to gain by an increase in broadband connections. The more people that have high speed Web access, the more people will be able to watch shows that are streamed online -- which the networks are encouraging anyway, at their own sites and ventures like Hulu.com. True, the TV networks don't want to see streams at the expense of over-the-air broadcasts, but there's no reason to believe that both won't be able to co-exist on the radio airwave spectrum.

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