RealTime IT News

Microsoft Talks White Space as Debate Intensifies

Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie
Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer
Source: Microsoft

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, is the latest high-profile technology luminary to plead the industry's case in Washington for opening the white spaces spectrum -- as lobbying on both sides of the contentious issue reaches a fever pitch ahead of a key Federal Communication Commission meeting next week.

White spaces are the patches of unused wireless spectrum that lie between television channels. Major technology companies such as Microsoft, Google, Philips and Motorola, along with several nonprofit advocacy groups, are calling for the FCC to make that unlicensed spectrum available for new wireless broadband networks.

Earlier this year, Google co-founder Larry Page made the trek to D.C. to make his pitch for opening up the spectrum, which he and other supporters have said would be similar to Wi-Fi networks, only more powerful.

But television broadcasters and other opponents to the plan warn that white-space devices could interfere with the adjacent TV channels. Many are calling for a comment period to give the public a chance to review the results of the most recent round of FCC testing.

White-space advocates, on the other hand, say enough is enough.

"The testing has been extensive," Mundie told reporters on a conference call this morning. "No one has any basis for claiming that they don't know what was tested or how it was tested."

Earlier this month, FCC engineers released a report of more than 400 pages concluding that technical safeguards could overcome the threat of interference. Soon after, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin circulated a draft order among the other commissioners that would set in motion the process of freeing up the white spaces. The commission is scheduled to vote on the measure at its meeting next Tues., Nov. 4.

The broadcasters and other opponents have attacked what they see as discrepancies between the testing results and the report's conclusion, and have filed an emergency request to postpone the vote.

In advance of that meeting, Mundie is in Washington for the second time in two weeks to meet with FCC commissioners and their staffers to drum up support for the issue.

This morning, he met with Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, while this afternoon, is expected to meet with Commissioner Robert McDowell's staff. Microsoft's co-founder and chairman, Bill Gates, is also expected to get into the action, speaking to McDowell via teleconference.

Mundie said earlier today that he has been encouraged by Microsoft's discussions with the commissioners so far. After four years of consideration and two rounds of testing, he is hoping that the FCC will brush aside broadcasters' requests for a 70-day comment period.

"I'm very hopeful and optimistic that we'll see the decision be favorable next Tuesday," Mundie said. "I've seen nothing to indicate that people are very warm to a delay."

Which way will the vote go?

However, a source within the FCC told InternetNews.com that Adelstein, with whom Mundie met before talking with reporters, was "pleased that we're moving forward" with opening the white spaces, but that he would have liked to have had an additional comment period following the new report from the FCC's engineers.

Still, the source did not see any reason why the vote would not proceed as scheduled at the commission's meeting next Tuesday, though it is still not clear if a majority of the five-person commission will favor the measure.

Mundie himself admitted the uncertainty of the vote. "We'll never know until next week," he said.

Page 2: White spaces plan under attack from a broad coalition