Third White Space Bill on Deck

Another bill to allow unlicensed devices into unused TV broadcast channels is in development on Capitol Hill. A staff member for Rep. Jay Inslee's (D-Wash.) confirmed that the congressman likely would introduce his own white space bill "in the coming weeks."

Capitol Hill sources said the early draft of the bill set forth no interference protection for the 2,150 or so licensed low-power TV stations or 5,000 TV translators in the country. It was also said to eschew protections for wireless mics. However, the bill is still a work in process, the staff member said:

"The language has not been finalized."

Pressure is increasing in Washington to allow low-power, unlicensed RF transmitters into unused broadcast channels, or white spaces. These channels are intentionally unassigned to prevent TV signals from interfering with one another. The actual devices intended for use in the spectrum are still in development, but have been variously described as wireless multimedia routers for the home and portable communications gear. A coalition consisting of Microsoft, Dell, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Philips and Google is pushing to open white spaces and has told the FCC it will soon provide a prototype device for interference tests.

Inslee was one of the first lawmakers to ratchet up the heat on opening white spaces. In 2005, he introduced an amendment ordering the FCC to finish its unlicensed devices proceeding (ET Docket No. 04-186) within a year. That amendment passed out of the House as part of the bill ending analog transmissions in 2009, but it was stripped out of the final version signed by the president.

Two white space bills are already in circulation in the Senate. One from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) orders unused broadcast channels to be made available for unlicensed devices within 180 days of passage. Kerry's Wireless Innovation Act was part of the last year's erstwhile telecom reform legislation. He reintroduced it earlier this year.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) has also rolled out the White Spaces Act of 2007, which would open white spaces 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.

The FCC's own timeframe would release unlicensed devices into TV spectrum Feb. 17, 2009; the day analog TV transmitters must be shut down.