FCC Chief Touts White Spaces

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin may have tipped his hand earlier this week on white spaces: "I do think we need to try to more efficiently use the broadcast spectrum and we need to do so trying to find a way to utilize those white spaces for other kinds of commercial services."

That, in and of itself, is not an endorsement for white spaces, the interference buffer zones between broadcast channels that Google, Microsoft, Dell, Motorola and other tech titans covet for the spectrum's potential for delivering wireless broadband. Broadcasters adamantly maintain use of their interference zones will lead to, well, interference.

What is significant is that Martin seems to enjoy telegraphing his intent and, by extension, the FCC's. Weeks before the FCC found Comcast guilty of violating network neutrality rules, Martin made it abundantly clear that he had already decided Comcast was guilty.

He now appears to be beating the drum for the use of white spaces. Google, et al, insist the technology exists for sensing existing signals and avoiding interference. The FCC recently concluded lab and field tests on prototypes of the white spaces devices and is expected to release the results any day now.

"This is going to help us inform what the rules should be to allow us to more effectively use the broadcast spectrum," Martin told reporters before a Sept. 22 Capitol Hill hearing. "Many people have claimed the devices passed or failed. Neither of [those] is accurate."

Martin then said, "It would certainly be very helpful if we could find a way to use them for wireless broadband services and to do that in a way that doesn't create inference."

With just three votes needed on the five-person FCC to swing a vote, Martin appears to be in the bag for white spaces, presuming the testing shows the potential to avoid existing signals in the white spaces. With Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein likely supporters of use of white spaces, broadcasters appear to be on the losing end of this tech debate.