Tech vendors get new backing for 'white-space' wireless campaign

Consumer groups, think tanks join push for use of TV spectrum by wireless devices

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of technology vendors, consumer groups and think tanks has banded together to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to approve wireless devices that would operate in currently unused television spectrum.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance, which launched a Web site on Wednesday, is an expansion of the vendor-centric White Spaces Coalition, a group that has been pushing for the use of so-called white-space spectrum for wireless broadband services.

The vendor coalition includes companies such as Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Intel Corp., Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. At a press conference held here today, several other groups, including Free Press, the Media Access Project, TechNet, the Computing Technology Industry Association and Educause, said that they were joining in the white-space push.

U.S. Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) also lent their support to the efforts of the new alliance at the press conference. They also were among six federal lawmakers who signed a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin that was dated Tuesday and calls on the agency to wrap up its ongoing inquiry into the possible use of white space (download PDF).

Inslee called white-space spectrum one of the "greatest untapped" sources of technical innovation in the U.S. "We're just waiting for government to do its job, to set the rules of the road, so the geniuses in America can really use this tremendous resource," he said.

Using available white space could help bring broadband services to areas of the U.S. that have limited or no choices now, Inslee added. The lack of broadband in many areas is "really a sad comment on our failure to move ahead as a nation," he said. "This is one of my continuing frustrations -- that we have not made adequate progress. And the availability of white spaces is one tool to attack that."

Under a proposed FCC timeline, devices that use the white space could be available for sale in February 2009, after television stations and networks are required to switch from analog to digital broadcasts and move off of broadcast channels above Channel 51.

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