Questions about the vetting process aren't just for vice presidential candidates

Lots of questions are being raised about the FCC's thoroughness in determining whether white-space devices interfere with television broadcasts and other services such as wireless microphones. Last week the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) released a report saying white-space devices with geolocation and sensing technologies could be used with some conditions without interference. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is now pushing the concept with an FCC vote set for Nov. 4.

Broadcasters and the country's largest wireless microphone maker, Shure, have asked the FCC to subject the results to a comment period, and they naturally question much of the data in the report. Shure raises some questions about the FCC's data in its filing that either lacks support or never made it into the executive summary. For instance, Shure claims the FCC didn't give enough information about false detection problems and about its two-day field testing in the D.C. area. The National Association of Broadcasters point out the report's results don't give any technical support to or shed any light on what is an appropriate "sensing threshold" to protect DTV viewers.

Obviously, a comment period would take at least two months--two months that Martin and the rest of the FCC gang might not have if a new administration decides to shake up the FCC. So you have to wonder: Is the FCC trying to ram the white-space issue through without a thorough analysis of the implications simply because it may be running out of time? Of course, white-space advocates argue the FCC has been looking at white spaces as a way to bridge the digital divide for some four years now. And, of course, these types of interference tests are subject to interpretation. A consensus may never be reached when certain parties have agendas.

However, the FCC has been found guilty before of not fully vetting interference questions. In 2003, the commission heavily championed broadband over power lines (BPL) but was met with resistance from the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), which represents amateur radio users and was concerned about interference. The FCC concluded there wasn't an interference problem but was sued by the ARRL for not fully disclosing for public comment the studies the FCC used in its BPL rule making. Earlier this year, a D.C. district court agreed with ARRL, effectively halting the expansion of BPL until the FCC can come up with more facts supporting its conclusion that the technology doesn't cause interference. 

At any rate, opponents of white-space use aren't going down without a bitter fight.--Lynnette 


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