Google Makes A White Spaces Concession.

In yet another chapter of “Why Citizens Movements Are Citizen Driven,” I think Google has conceded too much too soon in its letter today to the FCC. Briefly, in an effort to try to head off the persistent claims that the white spaces prototypes have “failed” and to move out of the wireless microphone trap that opponents of white spaces have used so effectively, Google proposes a combination of “beaconing” (give users of wireless microphones a low power gadget that mimics a dtv signal, thus denying use of the vacant channel to any white spaces device (WSD) in the immediate vicinity, as the WSD will interpret the channel as “active”) combined with setting aside channels 36-38 for wireless microphones, and requiring geolocation and a “permission to activate” signal from higher power stationary devices.

For reasons discussed below, I am not happy . . .

All these things have been proposed by folks before, but Google is the first of the major tech supporters of white spaces to break ranks and propose such additional protections besides sensing. (“Sensing” means detecting an active microphone or active DTV channel.) Indeed, as Microsoft points out in its own filing, the problem at the moment is that white spaces prototypes are too sensitive and are getting false positives, rather than not sensitive enough. As a test of whether sensing can detect and protect microphones, it would seem that the existing prototypes have clearly demonstrated they can. (I shall have more on the efforts of NAB and others to keep moving the goal posts to ensure that the prototype testing always “fails” in a subsequent post.)

I understand the concern Google has of getting on wireless systems, particularly given its failure to win any licenses in the 700 MHz auction. But experience tells me that concessions to the broadcasters and their allies in the testing stage have an unfortunate tendency to backfire. Google’s offer of “enhanced protection” in an effort to get the issue off the table will, inevitably, be spun by white spaces opponents as more proof that the technology does not work. Further, I fear that rather than accept Google’s offer as overly protective, it will become the new floor at the FCC and the basis for demands for even more needless (and costly) “protections.”

Keep in mind that the enhanced spectrum protection Google proposes has significant costs. Requiring mobile devices to rely on beacons that give permission limits peer-2-peer and creates problems in situations where infrasturture may be destroyed (such as after a Katrina or Rita-type hurricane). From the perspective of those of us that work with Community Wireless Networks and want to see broadband deployed by the poorest communities, any increase in cost is problematic and should be justified by rigorous engineering analysis — or at least a political compromise that will stick. So while I supported these rules in the context of the 3650-3700 Band, I do not think they are needed here from an engineering perspective and I do not think this concessision buys much from a political perspective.

Mind you, I continue to maintain that the matter of wireless microphones is a legal red herring because the FCC found in its 2004 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that WSDs will not interfere with wireless microphones. It has never reversed that determination, so the idea that WSDs “fail” testing by not protecting devices they are not designed to protect (based on the FCC’s own analysis) is rather ridiculous. But I recognize that such an answer has no currency in the face of broadway theater groups and megachurches (all of whom use the wireless microphone service in direct violation of the FCC’s Part 74 restrictions). I could support Google’s play if I thought it moved the ball forward. Indeed, now that they have made the concession, I hope it will move the ball forward. Perhaps Google has lined up some Hill support to say to the wireless microphone guys “well, why doesn’t this solve your problem?” If that happens, or if this gives sufficient political cover to the Commissioners to vote against the interests of the broadcasters and the wireless microphone constituency, then its a price worth paying.

But I fear Google — in a panic over bad testing and finding itself at the mercy of Verizon in the licensed world — has conceded too much too soon. It therefore falls on those of us who are not industry players such as New America, Public Knowledge, Free Press, my own employer Media Access Project, and anyone else who cares about opening the white spaces on terms that benefit us all, to carry on the struggle. Another lesson in why citizen movements are citizen driven, and why we don’t let any corporation — even one that promises not to be evil — speak for us.

Stay tuned . . . .

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7 Comments

  1. Chaz says:

    Google is supporting Motorola, which is supporting a two tier solution whitespace solution – with one of the tiers being a “registered” provider.

    Could the FCC support such a “registered” system which permits new providers in light of the incumbent issue shown in the recent 700 MHz auction?

  2. Henry Cohen says:

    You’re neglecting one other very large and important segment of illegal wireless microphone users: Corporate America. All the large corporate events and exhibitions, especially those put on by such high tech companies as Microsoft, Google, Dell, IBM, AT&T and others of that eilk *demand* wirless mics for their executives and other presenters.

  3. Harold says:

    Henry:

    You are correct. There are a wide variety of unauthorized users — many of whom have no idea that their use is contrary to FCC rules. I know a lot of musicians who assume because they can buy these things at Radio Shack their is no problem. I have fun at convention centers and at speaking engagements pointing out to FCC Commissioners that we are “radio pirates” because the wireless microphones work on the broadcast bands.

    What is irritating is that there is a very simple, straightforward solution that would legitimize the existing user population and handle the problem of possible white space interference. But Shure (which is the chief spokescompany for wireless microphones) and the rest of the white spaces opponents are not interested in actually solving the problem.

  4. publius says:

    i’ve always thought that this same tug would cause google to abandon net neutrality. they can certainly afford to pay whatever they’re charged — and if it keeps the status quo in place and prevents new googles, all the better.

  5. Henry Cohen says:

    Harold,

    “I have fun at convention centers and at speaking engagements pointing out to FCC Commissioners that we are “radio pirates” because the wireless microphones work on the broadcast bands.”
    If you think that was fun, you should have seen the expression on the faces of Microsoft, HP, Google, eBay, Dell and HP execs and handlers when my colleagues and I explained that come February 2009 we may not be able to provide reliable wireless mic operations and that to ensure the integrity of the event, we should put them on wired mics.

    “What is irritating is that there is a very simple, straightforward solution that would legitimize the existing user population and handle the problem of possible white space interference. But Shure (which is the chief spokescompany for wireless microphones) and the rest of the white spaces opponents are not interested in actually solving the problem.”
    What is arguably just as aggravating is people not at least providing a basic description of a simple solution they have for a rather serious problem. Shure maybe the most vocal of the manufacturers, and of our industry but they don’t necessarily represent 100% the views of all entertainment production RF companies or people. Do you believe that Google and Microsoft ‘softened’ their stance on WSD spectrum sensing and beacon deplyment simply due to Shure’s (and NAB’s and MSTV’s) protestations and grandstanding? There are those of us working in the background who do understand the spectrum must be shared and the free [illegal] ride is over; that we as users have to push manufacturers to develop new technologies that deliver near the audio quality and zero latencies we – and consumers of the audio content – have come to expect, while at the same time trying to convince the WSD proponents that the content they want to deliver heavily depends on wireless mics (and other wireless production equipment) and to ‘go easy’ with us to give our industry some time to come up with cost effective solutions (the wasted fours years notwithstanding).

  6. Harold says:

    Henry:

    I would be happy to carry on the discussion privately, if you wish. You may reach me through the Media Access website (http://www.mediaaccess.org) or email me from here to provide me with contact information to reach you.

  7. Henry Cohen says:

    Harold – You can reach me at
    hcohen at productionradio dot com if you are so inclined.

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