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Two Things Happened at the FCC Today

Susan Crawford

Paul Kaputska has the best wrap-up of the 700 MHz press releases and statements online, with comments from major players. Rick Whitt is polite and welcoming, noting the progress that's been made (who would have thought any move towards unlocking devices from networks was possible?) while saying it would have been better to have included wholesale requirements.

But while even mainstream media was (finally) focusing on the moderate, incremental, and possibly hopelessly unenforceable (and ultimately meaningless) steps taken by the FCC today in announcing its auction rules, something else happened.

The FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology announced [PDF] initial testing results for a couple of prototype devices that might be used in the television white spaces. This is important news too, because there's been a lot of hope that (1) part of these white spaces (unused by TV broadcasters) could be made available for unlicensed use by (2) opportunistic devices that would sense when frequencies were in use by television or other signals.

In fact, the incumbents have often said in the 700 MHz wars that everyone who's anxious to see unlicensed, adventurous uses of spectrum shouldn't worry because they would get that through the white spaces proceeding.

Well, things don't look too good so far for those prototype devices, one of which came in from Microsoft and another from a group made up of Dell, EarthLink, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics. (Good overview story here about the Philips prototype.) The FCC-types don't think the devices are sensitive enough.

This may be equally serious news - the incumbent telcos will continue to control the wireless carrier market for broadband access, and the incumbent broadcasters will block unlicensed use of spectrum they're not even using, for fear that some old TV won't be able to pick up a signal.

All of this is enough to make me want to look around for some cheerful news — here's some: John Wilbanks of ScienceCommons.org is launching the next scientific revolution. For him, the telco-analogue is the publisher of scientific papers, who locks up facts and science behind copyright agreements and un-parseable PDFs. But he's making huge progress. So there.

By Susan Crawford, Professor, Cardozo Law School in New York City
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