Bi-partisan Hill support makes White Space legislation a continuing threat

Proposed government legislation that would allow unlicensed devices to be used in White Space broadcast spectrum that protects DTV signals from interference was front and center at MSTV s (Maximum Service Television) 20th annual television conference on Oct. 3 at Washington DC s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Elizabeth Murphy Burns, president Morgan Murphy Stations MSTV chairman, said the TV industry needs to come together to protects the integrity of over-the-air DTV signals. We don t want consumers returning digital receivers to stores because of interference from unlicensed devices, she said. We believe [those who want to allow unlicensed devices into the spectrum] need to prove a heavy burden proving there won t be interference.

Companies like Intel, Dell and Microsoft have been pushing for access to White Space spectrum. The goal? To allow consumers in rural areas who don t have access to broadband services from cable or DSL providers to ride the airwaves and use wireless technology to connect to the Internet.

But Paul McTear, Raycom Media president and CEO, added that unlicensed devices will cause extreme havoc with the digital transition. There will be freezing DTV pictures and I don t think there is any proof from consumer device makers that they can prevent interference, he says.

The broadcast industry, with respect to that call for proof, scored a major victory when the Federal Communications Commission released a Public Notice stating that it needs additional technical information concerning unlicensed devices in the TV band.

But that victory, while important, comes face to face with another reality: allowing unlicensed devices into White Spaces spectrum has bi-partisan support on Capitol Hill. Johanna Shelton, Minority Counsel, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said the reason is simple: those on the right support it because they re distrustful of government-managed programs while those on the left view it as a de-corportization of the airwaves.

Members are concerned with spectrum efficiency and establishing rural broadband, she added. But there is a lot at stake and it lends itself to a go slow and don t trip anything up approach. And the questions of interference are very real and awaiting FCC field studies.

James Assey, another Minority Counsel to the Committee, added, We re not engineers and that decision [regarding interference] has to be made by the people with the technical expertise. The mood on the hill is that this is important enough to move forward on and open up a space fairly low on the spectrum that would promote broadband growth.

With only 865 days until the analog turn off Paul Karpowicz, Meredith Broadcast Group president, said his concern is that efforts to drive DTV adoption, particulary in small and mid-level markets, is lacking.

There are still communities that are uneducated and don t know how to buy a set, let along get a signal, he said. The industry has a responsibility to use our own airwaves to make consumers more educated than they are today. And NAB and MSTV have a role in shaping and directing that communication. But it s important because while 60% of consumers have cable that doesn t account for second and third TV sets in the basement.