Dingell Dangles White Spaces Questions

Rep. John Dingell, the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, is not sold on using unlicensed broadband devices in the interference buffer zones between digital television signals. Dingell, aka the Grand Inquisitor, wants some answers first.

In August, Dingell said in a letter (PDF) to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin that the FCC should consider licensing some of the spectrum.

"It is possible that a licensing regime could help mitigate the impact of harmful interference to incumbents in this spectrum," Dingell wrote. "These particular bands of spectrum are extraordinarily valuable and offer the potential for entirely new and innovative services."

An FCC engineering report (PDF) released on Oct. 15 on white spaces devices concluded that the devices would not cause inference with television signals when coupled with a geolocation database, a contention hotly disputed by the National Association of Broadcasters. Based on the report, Martin has scheduled a Nov. 4 vote on the unlicensed use of white spaces.

Before the vote, though, Dingell now wants answers to a series of questions (PDF) he submitted to Martin Oct. 24.

"I am well aware that the development of appropriate rules for this spectrum could facilitate the deployment of wireless broadband devices across the country," Dingell wrote to Martin. "It is equally important to me, as it should also be at the Commission, that free, over-the-air television signals be adequately protected from harmful interference."

Among the questions posed to Martin are whether the FCC engineering report was subjected to peer review and what plans the FCC has in place to deal with consumer complaints of interference.

"While I understand that unlicensed devices have worked in other bands and have helped drive technological innovation, the public interest requires a more detailed and careful analysis when permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the broadcast television band," Dingell wrote.

Dingell's letter is the latest in what has become an endorsement tit-for-tat between the broadcasters, which, at a minimum, want the FCC to delay the vote until 2009, and companies like Google, Microsoft and Motorola, which covet the space for the unlicensed (read: free) delivery of wireless broadband.

Following Dingell's letter to the FCC, NAB President and CEO David K. Rehr sent a letter (PDF) Oct. 27 to the FCC urging the agency to allow the public to comment on the 400-page technical report, which was just recently released by the Commission. White spaces proponents responded with a letter from six U.S. House members urging the FCC to proceed with its Nov. 4 vote.

Like the FCC needs more input on this issue: The study on the use of white space devices has covered more than four years and generated more than 20,000 comments to the FCC.