WASHINGTON — Larry Page doesn’t get it and he admits it. Fresh off introducing the T-Mobile G1 smart phone in New York Sept. 23, the Google co-founder traveled to Capitol Hill Sept. 24 to lobby for tech’s use of white spaces, the empty spectrum slots between television stations.
Google, Microsoft, Dell, Motorola and a host of other tech firms claim the spaces should be use for the delivery of unlicensed wireless broadband. The technology exists, they insist, to not interfere with nearby television stations. The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), though, maintains an over-our-dead-body stance when it comes to using white spaces, insisting that the empty spectrum slices are critical in cocooning their members’ broadcast signals from harmful interference.
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has concluded field testing on several white spaces device prototypes and is expected to release the results any day now. Page said he is delighted with the results of the testing, while the broadcasters insist the testing has shown the prototypes to be dismal failures.
“The time is now for the FCC to act,” Page said. “It is so obvious we should do this, I don’t even know how to debate it.”
Although he later backtracked and corrected his words, Page initially said the FCC testing was “rigged deliberately” in favor of the broadcasters. “These are prototypes and they are being treated as products ready to ship,” he said. “I’m not saying [the tests were rigged], I just think none of these things are necessary to get started [on developing white spaces devices].”
All the FCC needs to do, Page said is to “allow people to use this spectrum in an unlicensed way if their devices don’t cause interference. Literally — that one sentence — is all they have to say. The testing is going to go once you’ve spent $100 million to make the actual device.”
It is all too “political” Page said, who nevertheless gave a shout out to the Google-sponsored petition drive urging lawmakers to back the use of white spaces. That, of course, opened the door for the NAB, which didn’t hesitate to comment on Page’s remarks.
“It’s worth asking whether 13,000 petitions are more important than retaining interference protections for 113 million TV-watching homes,” said Dennis Wharton, the NAB’s executive vice president. “All the petition drives in the world cannot mask the fact that Google’s own allies have admitted that these devices don’t work. Absent proven interference protection, Google’s gamble on the future of television is not a risk Americans should be asked to take.”
And so goes another day in the white spaces “does to, does not” cause interference debate.
“This is a political debate and I’m an engineer. I like practical debates,” Page said. “There’s nobody in the world who can truthfully tell you there’s no way to produce these devices without causing interference. That’s just not true.”
Welcome to Washington, Larry.