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White Space: Campaign Heats Up in Final Days

The big FCC vote on white space is just days away, and calls for a public comment period on the proposal are popping up like political ads.

Broadcasters and other incumbent users are fighting the push by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to bring new rules to vote on Election Day, just weeks after the release of data broadcasters say show unresolved numerous technical issues facing expanded white space use.

The makers said in their letter that the prototype devices "failed to differentiate between an occupied and unoccupied TV channel nearly 33 percent of the time."Tuesday, a group of 28 lawmakers wrote Martin, urging him to follow the agency's "usual practice of seeking public comment prior to adopting a major rule."

Signatures on the letter included those of five lawmakers (including four Republicans) from North Carolina, a likely site of Martin’s future political ambitions.

“Given the potential impact of this decision on American television viewers, surely the Commission should take the time to more thoroughly evaluate these test results before formulating final rules,” the representatives wrote.

Another letter urging a public comment period came from Sens. Hillary Clinton, D, N.Y., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Michel Enzi, R-Wyo., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., along with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.

Religious constituents are weighing in as well. Saddleback Church—the one that held interviews with both Barack Obama and John McCain earlier this year—says it hosts 25,000 people for services every weekend in Lake Forest, Calif.Pastor Rick Warren wrote Martin urging protection of wireless mic users.

“If the FCC were to carelessly loosen the standards and open them to these respective frequencies of new unlicensed devices, the Commission will cause immeasurable disruption to our ability to manage static and audio dropouts,” Warren wrote. “Solutions to this situation will cause houses of worship will have to invest unknown resources to battle the interference from unlicensed mobile wireless devices.”

Another megachurch, Lakewood Church in Houston, voiced similar concerns earlier this month.

Also this week, a cluster of conservative, libertarian-leaning, and small-government groups also called for changes in Martin’s plan. Some of those groups called for the FCC to auction off the white spaces to raise money for the Treasury.

A coalition of major sports leagues reiterated their concerns, and entertainers are entering the fray to protect their wireless mic use. Dolly Parton led that pack. MGM Mirage, boasting 64,000 employees, agreed.

So too did NAMM (the International Music Products Association). It joined the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Country Music Association, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Recording Artists Coalition to warn the FCC against taking “a giant leap backwards,” with reliance on spectrum sensing technology as protection for wireless microphones.

“We believe that unless the Commission’s order is significantly changes, this step will lead to a significant disruption of live music across the country,” the artist groups wrote, echoing a proposal offered by wireless mic maker Shure Inc. “Instead, we ask the FCC to establish a geolocation and database process that protects an adequate number of channels that can be used in smaller venues and permits larger venues to register in the database to gain added protection for larger events.”

NAB has also been in a war of words with white space advocates prematurely dancing on the grave of free TV.