White Space and Gray Matter

Congressman Jerrold Nadler recently published an Op-Ed in the New York Times. His analysis is so off-the-mark, I felt compelled to respond.

I want to begin with some terminology. He describes the White Spaces as being the “intervals between television channel frequencies.” This could mean the geographic separation between grade contours, the guard bands, or even the blanking intervals in NTSC progressive interlace. At any rate, white spaces are “white” because at a given time and place the frequencies are not being used as carrier waves. If the spectrum is not being used then, by definition, there cannot be interference. And not just interference alone, but harmful interference is the statutory level of protection.Now I am not sure about the previous white space tests, as I lack the engineering experience to adequately review the opinions. But, I have see arguments suggesting the are conclusive and ones stating that they are not dispositive. Either way, technology will eventually overcome these issues. There are, however, more glaring failures of Rep. Nadler’s arguments.

“Microsoft, Google and others are asking permission to use white spaces — free of charge — for millions of unregulated and unlicensed devices for personal networking systems that they would like to sell, including P.D.A.’s, wireless broadband devices and even toys. These devices could disrupt the new digital TV signals that government and industry have spent so much time and money to promote.”

This is misleading by misstatement and by omission. Misstatement: unlicensed devices are not “unregulated”. Omission – the broadcasters did not pay for their spectrum either. Moreover, who cares what the broadcasters sunk costs might be. Suppose Google and Microsoft will spend more to develop more important technologies.

Rep. Nadler goes on to say, “And because these personal devices would be unregistered, there would be no effective way of recalling them or curtailing their use, much less assuring that standards were adhered to their manufacture.” If you read the FCC Part 2 and Part 15 rules you will find that this is dead wrong. When I was at the FCC, I spent a lot of time working on precisely this issue. Before any radio device, be it licensed, unlicensed, or licensed-by-rule, can be imported or marketed in the US, it must be certificated to comply with FCC standards. In addition, users of unlicensed devices have “no vested right to continued operation.” So, if in the future, the FCC decides that white spaces are best left white, it has the power to make operating these devices a crime. When Wi-Fi is outlawed, only outlaws will have Wi-Fi.

Further, without a single iota of economic evidence, Rep. Nadler values digital terrestrial TV over all other uses of the spectrum. Moreover, he values co-primary access according to his own wants and desires. It is a cute device when he argues for the protection of football games and Broadway musicals alike, but this too is misleading. Who is to say that a football game or Broadway show (both of which take place in large controlled Faraday cages) is more important than my wireless email?! I don’t like football, but I like email. How about public safety? I think that’s a better use of the white space. And, would it not be better public policy if we were helping “[l]ow-income households, the elderly and people living in multifamily buildings who don’t have cable service and rely on antenna systems” to get online with cheap unlicensed broadband access, and not to watch more TV?

Finally, if the Broadway star and star quarterback are counting on unfettered spectrum access (a concept whose time has come and gone) they should pay for that access. Otherwise, they should share the spectrum with the rest of us who get great value out of unlicensed use.  Both types of spectrum access will and must coexist in the future.  The future of spectrum policy will not be about “scarecity” or “interference” so much as it will be about coordination of use.

Insight: People, I cannot stress this enough, use your gray matter before you talk about the white space.

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  • http://kennethrcarter.com admin

    David Isenberg writes:

    Nadler’s Clueless Op-Ed
    Representative Nadler (D-NY) had an incredibly clueless op-ed on TV White Space last week in the New York Times. To the Times’ vast discredit, they ran it. It was so wrong on so many levels that I didn’t know where to begin critiquing it, so I didn’t. Besides, it was a busy blogging week with F2C and FISA.

    Thank goodness that (former FCC staffer) Kenneth Carter has now effectively taken Nadler’s op-ed down. Carter poignantly concludes:

    The future of spectrum policy will not be about “scarecity” or “interference” so much as it will be about coordination of use.

    Insight: People, I cannot stress this enough, use your gray matter before you talk about the white space.

    Recommended: Read the whole thing.


    Technorati Tags: FCC, NewYorkTimes, Press, Spectrum, video, WirelessNetworks

  • http://www.jacksons.net Chuck Jackson

    Ken Carter comments on Congressman Nadler’s observations on unlicensed use of the TV White Space. He concludes:
    “Insight: People, I cannot stress this enough, use your gray matter before you talk about the white space.”

    I suspect that Rep. Nadler did use his gray matter-after cogitating a while he came up with comments that represent important interests in NYC, such as Broadway and the Giants, that will loose if proponents of unlicensed use of the white space, such as Microsoft, have their way.

    Not surprisingly, the congressman whose district encompasses Redmond Washington sees things differently. See http://www.house.gov/inslee/issues/technology/inslee_pushes_for_broadband.html
    or http://tinyurl.com/2cceh2

    Ken also suggested that the white spaces might be used for wireless internet access. Such use on an extensive basis is extremely unlikely if unlicensed use is allowed in the white space. The laws of physics and economics mean that short-range unlicensed devices will crowd out long range systems except in areas where population density is quite low. If you want this spectrum to serve public safety, internet access, or mobile services, urge the FCC to grant overlay licenses of the white space the way they did in BRS and SMR.

    Chuck Jackson
    Disclosure: I have consulted on the TV white space issue for QUALCOMM-a firm that manufactures electronics that are used in both licensed and unlicensed (802.11) wireless systems.

    For more details, see the TPRC paper that Dorothy Robyn and I did. http://web.si.umich.edu/tprc/archive-search-abstract.cfm?PaperID=712

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