October 2008

White spaces - white noise!

White spaces, white noise!

The issue of using the underutilized spaces that exist in the broadcast spectrum has aroused much hostility from the US National Association of Broadcasters, coached like its objections to low-power FM in terms of concern about interference but probably more to do with perceived threats that could arise from expanding the reach of wireless broadband that could cut into the audiences for both radio and TV over-the-air broadcasts.

It makes appropriate noises about supporting innovative broadband applications but its record is one of a very narrow defence of what it perceives as the interests of its members (fair enough) without due regard to the wider public interest (permissible but probably not very wise) or the facts about technological developments' effects ( unacceptable).

NAB's arguments - the same as its LPFM objections.

The arguments put by the NAB boil down to the technology could interfere with existing broadcasts and so far it hasn't been shown to work (in the same way that its objections to low-power FM were, overtly at least, primarily the issue of potential interference despite safeguards that were being proposed - studies indicated that the NAB was screaming wolf at times when there wasn't a mammal in sight and massively overplaying the likelihood of interference but just in case interference issues arose the low-power station could be taken off the air if it was shown to be interfering with a licensed commercial station.)..

The Public Interest:

We agree with NAB to a very limited degree: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be failing in its duty were it to permit the sale of such devices without proper regulation to ensure that there was no significant effect on signals - primarily DTV signals in this case but some mobile communications companies have also been opposing the plans, again it would seem on the basis of potential damage to their business.

There is no evidence that this is the case. The evidence is that the Commission in all case is, if anything, too cautious about permitting development when it could but might well not affect vested interests.

In this case proposals are not to just allow an unregulated use of white-space devices but to allow development only within very narrow limits - restricting power and barring the use of some channels - but keep the door open should technological development mean that wider use can be made of white space by more advanced equipment to ease the restrictions.

The benefits.

From the point of view of the public this should mean the potential to eventually create high-speed wireless Internet networks that could enable easy reception of the Internet, including audio streams, in many more places - increase listener choice in other words rather than leaving them with access when on the move only to such choice by paying much more to existing mobile communications companies on such devices as cell-phones than a competitive use of white-space would allow.

In our view that would be to the advantage of the wider public and it would be foolish to stifle such potential because a lobbying group with few scruples concerning accuracy has a lot of clout and can attract signatures of support from self-serving politicians and organizations that will either directly benefit from restricting services or want technological certainties in an uncertain world.

Go ahead but regulate.

We can think of no strong arguments to prevent development in this area and think that with proper regulation there should be no reason to fear problems for incumbent spectrum holders in terms of anything but competition and choice - both of which we favour.

We can only hope that the incoming administration, despite lobbying that the NAB will doubtless commence, will look at the facts and allow development and use of white spaces to go ahead but institute proper trials and safeguards along the road.

If the facts show problems are occurring that outweigh the benefits of developments, then those proposing the developments should have to take a step back and improve their equipment: If they show no problems, objections from the NAB and others should be overridden and development given the go-ahead. The criteria should be the maximum benefit to communities and people as a whole, not to narrow business interests.

What you think? Please E-mail your comments.

RNW note: Some site technical problem in April 2008 meant we lost April and May 2008 comments and subsequent pressures meant we were unable to reconstitute them: We are now hoping to keep up to date with future comments and retrace our files to post the comments from April to Sept 2008 inclusive

March 2008 comment

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