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White Space: No Stance From Obama

A top telecommunications advisor to Barack Obama said Thursday he doesn’t know how the candidate stands on the issue of the future rules for operations in the DTV white spaces.

“I don’t know Senator Obama’s views about these gaps in the digital TV channel allocations,” said former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, representing the campaign at an event in Washington.

But, Hundt touted the notion of significant unlicensed use of spectrum. And none other than Google CEO Eric Schmidt, whose company has pushed for the opening up of white spaces, endorsed Obama in his 30-minute ad Wednesday night.

Hundt said Obama has an attitude that would encourage the kind of private sector experimentation and innovation that took place after the 1997 FCC order opening up unlicensed activity.

“We were told that this would produce a wave of innovation, and what do you know? It did,” Hundt said.

Hundt’s comments came in a forum sponsored by the New America Foundation, advertised as a smackdown between the presidential candidates’ technology policy advisors. But the representative of John McCain’s campaign cancelled, according to the foundation, so the event went on as a discussion with Hundt.

The New America Foundation has been a supporter of broad use of the white spaces by unlicensed devices, and Schmidt sits on the foundation’s board of directors.

Hundt did not mention interference to television in his brief response to a question about white spaces.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has a vote scheduled for Election Day on new white space rules. Broadcasters, wireless mic users and others have called for Martin to delay that vote and instead begin a public comment period with peer review of a recent FCC report on tests of prototype white space technologies.

The forum gave Hundt numerous opportunities to attack McCain and the Bush administration. Asked about the campaign’s stance on universal broadband access, he joked that such an idea would bring charges of “wealth redistribution” from the McCain camp.

Hundt said that whatever the policy solutions, goals like universal broadband access, or solutions to net neutrality questions, would be difficult to reach without economic recovery and the unfreezing of credit to make massive private sector investments. He said the cable industry would collectively have to invest another $15 billion to bring it to the next big advancement in broadband.

On net neutrality, he said additional legislation was not necessary—but would be welcomed—for the FCC to enforce neutrality principles. But he said that the technological advances that could provide greater capacity that would help reach a solution to the issue would not come without economic recovery and investment.

On the issue of foreign high-tech workers and the H1B visas needed to get them working in the United States—visas whose cap McCain has proposed raising—Hundt said Obama favors a temporary raising of the H1B cap while a comprehensive immigration policy is sought. But Hundt also pointed out that the majority of H1B holders do not have advanced degrees.