FCC member optimistic airwaves proposal will pass

WASHINGTON Wed Oct 29, 2008 1:15pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top federal regulator said on Wednesday he is optimistic communications officials will approve a plan, backed by Microsoft Corp and Google Inc, to open soon-to-be vacant television airwaves.

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a November 4 vote on the proposal to allow unlicensed use of some airwaves called "white spaces." These pockets of the spectrum will become available when U.S. broadcasters are required to move completely to digital television next year.

"I'm very optimistic. I think this could be a 5-to-0 vote," FCC member Robert McDowell told Reuters. Three of the five FCC commissioners are needed to clear the plan.

The issue pits traditional broadcasters such as Walt Disney Inc's ABC, CBS Corp's CBS and General Electric's NBC against high-tech companies like Microsoft and Google, which want the airwaves for new wireless devices.

Broadcasters say the technology is too new and may cause interference.

The FCC, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, are due to vote on the white spaces proposal drawn up by Republican commission Chairman Kevin Martin.

"The order itself is a very tight box. Each device still has to be certified by the FCC," McDowell, a Republican, said.

He said there is great potential for a new wave of innovative and faster devices to be developed by the private sector with the new spectrum.

An FCC report, released earlier this month, analyzed two rounds of testing on prototype devices, and cleared the technology to move forward.

(Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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