FCC Approves White Spaces Order

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The Federal Communications Commission Thursday unanimously voted on rules to implement its white spaces proceeding, which opens up the broadcast band to fixed and mobile unlicensed devices.

As expected, the commissioners voted to remove the initial proposal that those unlicensed devices have remote-sensing capabilities that would better help them avoid incumbent users. Instead, the FCC will rely entirely on a database where those incumbents can register for interference protection.

The commission also voted to set aside two channels for wireless microphones and will allow those using lots of microphones for events like Broadway shows and sports production to register for protection in the database, but they will have to do it in advance, the public will get to vet the request, and they must demonstrate that they really need the extra protection.

The agency will encourage the development of remote-sensing devices anyway in the interests of more efficient
spectrum use.

The commission still has to select the company to administer that database, and its Office of Engineering &
Technology has to come up with technical standards, but the commissioners all called the vote an important
first step toward freeing up spectrum for advanced services.

The current elephant in the FCC room, network neutrality, was not on the agenda, but Republican commissioner
Robert McDowell found a way to add it to the conversation anyway.

He argued that opening up the white spaces for new wireless broadband service meant that neither open access
or network neutrality need to be mandated by the commission.

"So you can take that off your list," he said to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski with a smile. His reasoning was that it would provide new competition to existing broadband providers and thus provide an additional check on "potential mischief."

McDowell also said that given the elimination of the proposed remote-sensing requirement, the FCC needed to
proceed with great care. He said it has the duty to create an effective tool, but one that did not harm to incumbents, and by extensions, consumers.

Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker agreed, saying that the database would need to be as accurate and
consumer-friendly as possible.

"It's been a long time coming, but it looks like white spaces' time has indeed come," said commissioner Michael Copps. "This is a truly major step to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband."

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