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White Spaces: The NAB vs. Reality

One of Washington’s most powerful corporate lobbies is at it again. Raising a dust cloud of lies in a last-ditch effort to stop new technology that could better the lives of millions.

For more than five years, now, the television broadcast lobby has tried to deny the American public access to white spaces—unused airwaves that sit vacant between TV channels.

Technology now exists that would tap the near limitless potential of these airwaves and deliver high-speed Internet services to tens of millions of people now left on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The Horse and Buggy Lobby

The benefits of getting Americans connected—fueling economic growth, civic engagement, free speech, telemedicine and distance education, to name a few—are immense.

And the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to deliver, recommending that we open white spaces after exhaustive testing showed that the technology can be used without interfering with adjacent TV signals.

Despite the evidence, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is clinging to horse-and-buggy notions about technology to protect their government-granted broadcast domains from advances that would let us share the air.

“Opposing innovation is a well-worn page in the broadcasters’ playbook,” writes Jake Ward of the Wireless Innovation Alliance. “They opposed satellite radio, cable TV, and even the VCR, but the newest claims are outlandish even for NAB.”

Don’t take Ward’s word for it.

Listen to what the so-called experts at the NAB actually say, and compare it to the scientific findings of the FCC’s engineers.

FICTION: The NAB told Washington that white space devices will affect the digital television transition, scheduled for February 17, 2009.

FACT: But the FCC won’t allow sale of any white space devices until “after the transition to DTV service is complete and all TV stations are in operation on their permanent DTV channels.”

FICTION: The NAB claims that FCC lawyers are “misinterpreting” the data collected by their engineers.

FACT: But the most recent FCC test report - written by the FCC engineers who collected the actual data - indicates that the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology believes that the technology works and “the burden of ‘proof of concept’ has been met.”

FICTION: The NAB claims that devices operating on adjacent television channels will “eviscerate” digital TV signals

FACT: But the FCC tested a device transmitting with more than three times the power that the agency is currently considering. Even then the engineers found that “no interference was observed when the ... device transmitted on an immediate adjacent channel even with the transmitter in close proximity to the receiver with a roof-top antenna.”

The NAB’s Toxic Blend

The NAB believes that a mix of lies and lobbyists will win out over the facts in Washington.

The sad truth is that they may be right: Many DC decision-makers simply lack the bandwidth to look into what’s already known about white spaces technology. Instead, they rely upon industry lackeys who come knocking with tales of interference and disruption.

The NAB is now trying to stop the FCC from following good science with good policies.

Unless our leaders cut through the NAB static, we could be kept from using the airwaves to fill one of the biggest holes in our national infrastructure.


By Timothy Karr, Campaign Director, Free Press

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