Microsoft's Gates steps up FCC "white space" lobbying

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Bill Gates and other Microsoft Corp officials stepped up lobbying of top U.S. communications regulators on Monday, ahead of an important vote next week to open up unused wireless airwaves.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates speaks with former U.S. President Bill Clinton (unseen) during a conversation about philanthropy at the Clinton Global Initiative, in New York, September 24, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a November 4 vote on a plan to allow unlicensed use of parts of the 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.

Microsoft co-founder Gates planned to speak to Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell later on Monday, according to Microsoft chief strategist Craig Mundie, who was also in Washington for a lobbying trip.

“People seem to be generally favorable” of the FCC proposal, Mundie said of his discussions with regulators. Mundie, who spoke to reporters at a briefing, met on Monday morning with Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

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

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 Inc, which want the airwaves for new wireless devices.

A spokesman for the broadcasters said the technology threatens “the viability of clear television reception.”

Broadcasters want the proposal to go out for public comment, and last week accused its supporters of trying to take broadcast television off the air completely.

Wireless microphone users are also concerned the move could cause interference during performances.

Country music icon Dolly Parton wrote to the FCC asking for more time for the industry to review it. “The importance of clear, consistent wireless microphone technology cannot be overstated,” Parton wrote in a letter released on Monday.

The FCC has received thousands of public comments on the issue over the past few years and intends to go forward with the vote next Tuesday, a spokesman said.

“We’ve had over a year and a half of testing and building on the public record,” Martin spokesman Rob Kenny said, citing the agency’s technical report, which he said proved “white spaces can be used commercially, unlicensed and it can be done without causing harmful interference.”

The FCC report analyzed two rounds of testing on prototype devices, and cleared the technology to move forward.

On Friday, Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House of Representatives House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a list of questions to Martin. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, demanded that Martin respond by October 31 on whether an FCC engineering report was peer reviewed, and how the agency will deal with interference from broadcast signals if it occurs.

Mundie said Dingell’s letter and the latest request by broadcasters is in “no way indicative of a problem going forward.”

Editing by Frank McGurty