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White Space Bill No. 3 Recognizes Wireless Mics

Yet another bill dealing with devices in broadcast taboo bands has emerged. This one, from Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), recognizes that television spectrum is used for more than just transmitting TV signals.

"The television spectrum is home not only to broadcasting, but also to other existing devices, including wireless microphones," states Rush's bill, H.R. 1320. "These other existing devices provide important services to the entertainment, religious, news, sports, business, governmental, public safety and other industries, and enables their content delivery to consumers."

H.R. 1320 is the third bill introduced this session addressing the use of white spaces--broadcast channels left open to prevent TV signals from interfering with one another. A coalition of high-tech companies want white spaces opened for personal wireless devices. The FCC is in the midst of a proceeding to do so, but pressure is increasing to speed up the process.

Two white space bills have bowed in the Senate. One from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) would open white spaces within 180 days of passage. Kerry's Wireless Innovation Act was part of the last year's failed telecom reform legislation. He reintroduced it in January.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) followed Kerry with the White Spaces Act of 2007, which 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, but neither it nor Kerry's bill offers interference protection for wireless mics or other gear that already functions in the broadcast bands.

The FCC proceeding would release unlicensed devices into TV spectrum Feb. 17, 2009, the day analog TV transmitters must be shut down. Rush's bill would allow only fixed devices in rural areas by that date. The geographic specification reflects the initial impetus behind opening white spaces--extending wireless broadband into underserved areas, which are primarily rural.

The Rush bill also calls for interference testing and protection for "incumbent certified low-power auxiliary devices," and prohibits the use of unlicensed devices in spectrum where incumbents are operating. The bill further prohibits the use of mobile unlicensed devices in white spaces for three years after the first fixed device is approved.

The FCC order on unlicensed devices, released last October, also allows fixed devices only, but it did not limit their area of use. A simultaneously released Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asked for further comments on mobile devices, particularly since portable FM transmitters are currently causing interference with licensed radio stations. The order included projected dates by which the FCC intended to complete various objectives related to testing and certification. Accordingly, a report from the FCC Lab on the interference rejection capability of digital TV receivers will be issued this month. And while a likewise report on the potential interference from unlicensed devices themselves is due out in July, the commission was still awaiting the first prototype device for testing as of early March.

A fourth white space bill may yet be introduced. A staff member for Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) confirmed in late February that the congressman likely would introduce a bill "in the coming weeks."

Two years ago, Inslee introduced an amendment ordering the FCC to finish its unlicensed devices proceeding 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.