Is New York City an anti-white space town?
Oct 08, 2008 2:16 am
From Matthew Lasar in Ars Technica:
The New York City Council heard testimony about the dangers and prospects of unlicensed "white space" devices on Tuesday. Speakers pro and con discussed the question of whether allowing unlicensed applications to tap into unused TV channels would pose a threat to the wireless microphone systems that Broadway production companies depend on. As Ars readers know, this debate normally rages at the Federal Communications Commission's HQ in nearby Washington, D.C. But the Big Apple's government is considering a fairly mild resolution opposing the technology.
"Resolved," it reads, "That the Council of the City of New York urges the Federal Communications Commission to refrain from implementing proposed regulatory amendments that would allow portable devices to operate on the 'white space' radio spectrum without ensuring that such amendments will not negatively impact television broadcasters, performing artists, professional sports leagues, and all incumbent wireless microphone users."
This language is not far from the stated intentions of the FCC, as all of the Commissioners agree that, before the service is authorized on an unlicensed basis, strong precautions must be taken to make sure that it does not interfere with these systems. But the city's resolution is preceded by a tall pile of "whereas"-es that recount the litany of potential harms nay sayers warn will come with the devices.
If the FCC gives the green light to unlicensed use, "live theatre, the performing arts, film and television production companies will be unable to prevent constant interference with microphone systems, devastating those industries within the City of New York," one line concludes.
As Broadcasting and Cable reports, prominent opponents of unlicensed use testified before the Council, including David Donovan of the Association of Maximum Service Television, who warned of "devastating" interference to broadcast reception if these whitespace devices were unleashed. Wireless mics could be reduced to a state where they're "randomly functional," if they performed as poorly in actual use as they did during recent FCC tests, a Shure microphone official claimed.
Boosters of unlicensed broadband use focused on the technology's potential. Free Press Director Timothy Karr estimated that a fifth of the TV band in New York City will be "sitting idle" after the DTV transition and said that unlicensed apps "can and will meet acceptable and certifiable standards of non-interference."
A host of local supporters of unlicensed use testified as well. Dana Spiegel of NYC Wireless promised that white space devices could "amplify" the achievements of WiFi, "enabling larger scale internet broadcast, providing inexpensive or free access to whole neighborhoods from the central anchor of a park." Joshua Breitbart of the People's Production House regretted that an "otherwise forward-thinking group of legislators" had proposed a resolution "so filled with fear and confusion," but added that he wasn't surprised. "The only thing the major broadcasters and wireless microphone companies have on their side [on this issue] is fear."
And indeed, while New York City has no shortage of pro-white space activists, politically, it is starting to build a reputation as an anti-white space town. Case in point: The New York City Council item is sponsored by a hefty eleven members of the 51 person legislative body. The majority of these sponsors come from Brooklyn and Manhattan.
In fact, New York can boast of having the only member of the House of Representatives to publish an op-ed piece against unlicensed use in the New York Times. Jerrold Nadler, whose Eighth Congressional District covers very theatrical slices of Manhattan and Brooklyn, warned in February that, if unlicensed white spaces win the day, "a person walking down the block looking up an address in his new P.D.A. could easily cause a television set to go blank or silence the wireless microphones worn by performers in a Broadway musical."
On the other hand, there's also a letter by eight Congressional representatives sent to the FCC in August, which urges the agency to fast track unlicensed use. The list of signers not surprisingly includes Mike Honda (D-CA) of Silicon Valley. But it features a strong New York contingent as well, including Yvette Clark of the 11th District and Gregory Meeks of the 6th. The areas they represent, however, are a fairly long subway ride from Broadway.