Skip to main content

Inslee White Space Bill Lets FCC Finish What It Started

Jay Inslee's white space bill is the most protective of incumbents of four such bills introduced on Capitol Hill. The Washington State Democrat, along with Republican Nathan Deal of Georgia, introduced the Wireless Innovation Act of 2007 in the House March 20.

Like three other bills already in circulation, this one seeks to open broadcast TV taboo channels--now commonly referred to as "white space"--up to unlicensed devices such as wireless routers, gaming gear, remote controllers and the like. The channels are intentionally left void of TV signals to prevent those signals from interfering with one another. With rather stringent spectrum coordination efforts, such channels already are intermittently used by wireless microphones, medical gear and other such devices.

The primary concern of incumbent licensees--that would be broadcasters--is that unlicensed devices will also be largely unregulated, since if they do indeed cause interference, they would be mostly untraceable.

The FCC is moving to open white spaces, but lawmakers are poking the commission to pick up the pace. The agency last October approved the use of fixed unlicensed devices in white spaces on Feb. 18, 2009, the day after the analog broadcast sunset, and sought further comment on mobile gear. A timeline for interference testing was also set up, but as of mid-March, FCC engineers were still waiting for a promised unlicensed device prototype to test.

The Inslee-Deal bill instructs the FCC to approve mobile devices and finish its proceeding by Oct. 1, but to release the devices into the spectrum "at the earliest technically feasible date, but not later than Feb. 18, 2009..."

It further directs the FCC to "establish technical requirements for unlicensed devices... to protect incumbent licensees... from harmful interference," and it requires unlicensed devices to comply with FCC certification processes.

Two white space bills in the Senate would open the spectrum before the analog shutdown. One from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), also named the "Wireless Innovation Act," would open it within 180 days of passage. Another, from Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), would open the spectrum within 90 days of passage, or by Oct. 1, whichever comes first. Sununu's bill also considers the option of auctioning licenses for the spectrum, as does the FCC proceeding.

A fourth bill, from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), gives special consideration to interference protection for wireless mics.