The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x22 or (703) 517-6273

Public Interest Groups Support Nov. 4 White Spaces Vote


A coalition of the nation's leading consumer, media and public
interest groups is calling on Congress to support using empty public
airwaves -- known as "white spaces" -- to bridge the digital divide and
bring Internet service to millions of Americans in underserved

In a letter sent to Congress on Friday, Free Press, Media Access
Project, Consumer Federation of America, Public Knowledge, New America
Foundation, Consumers Union, National Hispanic Media Coalition,
Prometheus Radio Project, Tribal Digital Village, Acorn Active Media
Foundation, CUWiN Foundation and Ethos Group urged members not to
interfere with the Federal Communications Commission's planned Nov. 4
vote on white spaces.

The full text of the letter is included below:

We write to encourage you to join us in supporting the FCC's
proposed ruling to open the empty broadcast television channels (or
"white spaces") for public use. In the upcoming vote on Nov. 4, the
commission has the opportunity to take a major step toward expanding
affordable broadband access and trigger major investment, innovation
and consumer benefits in this sector. Few agency decisions carry this
kind of potential. However, because of the money at stake, the
underlying value of this policy for consumers has been obfuscated by
politics. As consumer groups, we want to take this opportunity to lay
out the case for opening the white spaces in clear and certain terms.
The FCC's proposed rule would be a huge win for consumers -- expanding
broadband coverage, lowering prices, and triggering lots of new
innovation at a time when jobs and investment are under heavy downward

First, contrary to the rhetoric from broadcasters, if the FCC goes
forward with its rule-making on Nov. 4, it will have zero impact on the
digital television (DTV) transition. Zero. Even if the FCC desired to
certify white spaces devices before February 2009 (which it does not),
it is simply a practical impossibility for a white spaces device to be
built, certified and deployed in the next three months. No serious and
honest observer would suggest otherwise. Moreover, the transition of
television stations to digital broadcasting is irrelevant to the
operation of white spaces devices. These devices detect the presence of
digital broadcasters (and avoid interference) regardless of the channel
on which they operate. We share a strong interest in ensuring the DTV
transition proceeds as smoothly as possible, and we are 100 percent
confident that this white spaces order will not trouble that outcome in
the slightest.

Second, this decision should not be delayed. We understand the
broadcasters have asked for further public comment and review of the
FCC's technical recommendations. This is a kitchen sink strategy to
delay a ruling that is already long overdue. The FCC has been working
on this proceeding for four years. The laboratory and field testing on
the white spaces prototype devices were conducted over a period of
months with the engineers from all parties present and observing. The
nature of the studies, their findings, and the likely conclusions were
extensively debated in the record. Further, it is not standard for the
FCC to put engineering studies out for public comment. Though we have
been critical of this FCC's process in the past, in this case, the
agency has gone above and beyond the call for transparency of process
and outcome. There is no need for delay.

Third, the FCC's process to open the white spaces has been
contentious, but it has been fair. Perhaps more to the point, it has
been cautious. We are all committed to ensure that white spaces devices
do not cause harmful interference to over-the-air television. This is
not about favoring Blackberry users over TV viewers -- that is a
canard. We believe the FCC's expert engineers have bent over backwards
to protect incumbents. The technical limitations they have placed on
white space device certification are, if anything, overly restrictive.
This has been done very carefully. Further, this phase of the testing
aimed only to establish the "proof of concept." Prototype devices for
use in the white spaces were not expected to perform perfectly. They
were built with the purpose of demonstrating that the technology is
possible. The tests show an easy clearance of that bar. For those with
strong concerns about interference protections, device certification
remains another hurdle before any product comes to market. Further
scrutiny will come in that phase.

Finally, we want to underscore that this process has been conducted
forthrightly and transparently. Good science has been methodically
applied to good public policy ideas that have been supported by a
broad, bipartisan array of leaders. We've come to a strong public
interest outcome. Therefore, we treat with a healthy dose of skepticism
the frantic claims of incumbents that the sky will fall if the spectrum
is opened and returned to the public for unlicensed use. The National
Association of Broadcasters in particular has a long history in this
proceeding and elsewhere of bending facts and raising hysteria to
protect their financial interests.

At a time when we should all be thinking about policies that spark
economic growth, we have a great chance to support one right now. As a
technical matter, the only neutral engineering team in this debate, the
FCC, has given the green light on a proof of concept. There will be
ample opportunity to address continued interference concerns in the
certification phase. For now, the process has run its course. The FCC
should vote on Nov. 4. We much appreciate your consideration of this
important issue and we hope to count you as a supporter.


Free Press

Media Access Project

Consumer Federation of America

Public Knowledge

New America Foundation
Consumers Union
National Hispanic Media Coalition
Prometheus Radio Project
Tribal Digital Village
Acorn Active Media Foundation

CUWiN Foundation
Ethos Group