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Gates: Free Up More Spectrum For Wi-Fi

WASHINGTON -- Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates urged U.S. communications regulators on Thursday to allow more vacant television airwaves to be used for wireless services such as broadband Internet access.

During an appearance before a northern Virginia technology group, Gates said the so-called "white space" spectrum between analog broadcast channels could be used to expand access of wireless broadband service using Wi-Fi technology.

"We're hopeful that will be made available so that Wi-Fi can explode in terms of its usage, even out into some of these less dense areas [of the United States] where distance has been a big problem for Wi-Fi," Gates said in response to a question from the audience.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is part of a coalition of technology companies lobbying the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow unlicensed use of white space spectrum.

The group also includes Google, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and the North America unit of Philips Electronics.

Still, U.S. broadcasters and wireless-microphone makers oppose the idea and fear the devices would cause interference.

"Broadband penetration could be drastically improved through a fixed, licensed service without interference to TV reception," said Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.

"Unfortunately, Microsoft continues to push for an unlicensed technology that simply does not work," Wharton said. "TV viewers should not be inundated by the inevitable interference caused by such faulty devices."

A proposal being studied by the FCC would create two categories of users for the airwaves: one for fixed commercial operations and another for personal, portable devices using low-power and Wi-Fi.

The proposal would require that the devices include technology to identify unused spectrum and avoid interference.

The FCC currently is testing prototype devices to see if they can make use of the white space spectrum without interfering with TV broadcasts.

Also appearing with Gates was Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, who said a shortage of spectrum could hurt U.S. competitiveness. He said past decisions have not made enough spectrum available.

"White space activity today is sort of our last hope to get some good spectrum," Mundie said.