Network Chiefs Weigh In On White Space Debate

Some big names have joined the broadcast industry’s campaign to prevent unlicensed mobile devices from operating in the so-called white space of the digital-TV spectrum.

In an open letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, the heads of the corporations that own the four largest broadcast networks stated their concern over allowing any unlicensed wireless technology to share the TV spectrum with broadcasters. Such use, they said, could cause interference with TV signals and damage the fragile transition to digital broadcasting.

The four executives signing the letter were: CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves; News Corp. president and CEO Peter Chernin, whose company owns the Fox network; NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker; and Walt Disney Co. president and CEO Robert Iger, whose company owns ABC.

"As leaders in television broadcasting," they said in their letter to Martin. “We are writing to express our concern over placing personal and portable unlicensed devices in the digital-television band… Current proposals based on sensing to avoid interference could cause permanent damage to over-the-air digital television reception. Interference in the digital world will cause a digital picture to freeze and become unwatchable."

The FCC is being lobbied in the opposite direction by the computer industry and makers of unlicensed devices like PDAs and wireless laptops. These manufacturers want to share the so-called white space, or vacant portions, of the broadcast spectrum.

They claim that sensing technology within the unlicensed devices will be able to prevent interference. The FCC recently called for a second round of testing of such devices. (The devices failed the agency’s first tests.)

"The debate is about the viewer," said the network chieftains in their letter. “Consumers purchasing new digital equipment have a right to expect their equipment will work."