FCC Votes To Allow New Devices Into Unlicensed 'White Spaces'

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The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday voted to establish rules by which so-called white spaces within the broadcast television spectrum can be used by new wireless devices, an action opposed by TV broadcasters and others.

The cable industry opposed the measure, fearful that new devices would potentially disrupt TV viewing in both cable and broadcast-only homes.

The FCC, though, voted 5-0 to set rules governing the use of the unused spectrum that now acts as a buffer between television-station signals. The agency said safeguards would be enacted that would prevent harmful interference from the devices. Performers have also expressed concern about interference with wireless microphones.

"While we appreciate the FCC's attempt to address significant issues raised by broadcasters and others, every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today's Commission vote,” Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said in a statement. “By moving the 'white space' vote forward, the Commission appears to have bypassed meaningful public or peer review in a proceeding of grave importance to the future of television.”

"Fortunately, today's vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information,” he added. “Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV."

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement that “opening the white spaces will allow for the creation of a WiFi on steroids. It has the potential to improve wireless broadband connectivity and inspire an ever-widening array of new Internet based products and services for consumers. Consumers across the country will have access to devices and services that they may have only dreamed about before. I fully expect that everything from enhanced home broadband networks, to intelligent peer-to-peer devices, and even small communications networks will come into being in TV ‘white spaces.’ ”

For years, the FCC has been studying whether low-power portable broadband devices can operate in the unlicensed white spaces without producing harmful interference to TV signals.

Big-name technology firms, including Google and Microsoft, claim a new FCC engineering study supports the view that white spaces can be occupied without crippling incumbent services.

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