Google Turns Page on White Spaces

A Google co-founder stumps Washington for use of unlicensed devices in TV interference buffer zones.

WASHINGTON-Google co-founder Larry Page marched into the political arena May 22 and urged lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission to approve the unlicensed use of spectrum between broadcast channels.

This unused spectrum, known as white spaces, is provided to broadcasters to create interference buffer zones. Google, Microsoft and other tech companies want the spectrum to deliver broadband and other advanced wireless services, setting up a war of words and intensive lobbying on Capitol Hill.

The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) is adamant in its opposition to the operation of unlicensed devices in the buffer zones. The FCC is currently testing white spaces devices and is expected to issue a decision later in 2008.

"This is a huge opportunity to get connectivity to the American people, particularly in rural areas," Page said in a morning appearance at a think tank here. "I think it will make a huge difference to everybody."

Click here to read about why professional sports leagues like the NFL are opposing the use of white spaces.

Page said the broadcasters are not "dealing with reality" by creating a "fiction" about interference. "Just because they say it, it doesn't make it so," he said. Page also admitted that Google stands to gain if the FCC approves the use of white spaces.

"If we have 10 percent better connectivity in the U.S., we get 10 percent more revenue in the U.S., and those are big numbers for us," Page said. "I am totally confident that if we have rules that say you can use the spectrum under conditions that you cause no interference, that those devices will get produced."

The end result, Page said, would be that "hundreds of millions of dollars will be invested in making those devices noninterfering."

Early test failures

In July of 2007, the FCC put a damper on the white spaces idea when it said testing on equipment supplied by Microsoft failed to consistently sense or detect TV broadcast or wireless microphone signals. The agency began a second round of testing that resulted in a second Microsoft device losing power.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance, which includes Google and Microsoft, countered that the problem was an unrelated power issue, not interference. The Alliance claims broadcasters are deliberately blurring the line between the testing of new technology and the product certification process of the FCC.

"There is a huge opportunity to make Wi-Fi work better," Page said. The use of Wi-Fi over white spaces, Page said, would result in "faster speeds, more searches and more revenue for Google."

The NAB immediately counterpunched.

"Given the numerous device failures that have resulted during FCC testing it seems a little disingenuous for Mr. Page to simply dismiss the interference concerns that have been raised," NAB Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a statement. Wharton added it would be "unwise and unwarranted" to operate "unproven technology" in the white spaces zones.

"This is a huge opportunity for the economy in general," Page argued. "It's a great path to spectrum. It's only a matter of what year it will happen."