NFL, MLB, NBA Join Battle Over 'White Spaces' Spectrum

With a Nov. 4 vote approaching, the Sports Technology Alliance argues that the FCC's spectrum-sensing technology is clearly not ready for prime time.
The Federal Communications Commission is having a tough time scoring points with U.S. sports leagues for its plan to allocate unlicensed portions of the wireless spectrum.

That part of the spectrum, know as white spaces, sits between broadcast TV channels, and will become available when broadcast TV stations switch from analog to digital in 2009. Companies like Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft want the FCC to authorize use of the spectrum to allow wireless Internet services. These companies say it could be used for innovative new services. Broadcasters, telecoms, wireless microphone companies, and now major sports leagues fear that use of white spaces could interfere with nearby spectrum bands.

The FCC is expected to vote on the issue Nov. 4.

But in a filing with the FCC this week, the Sports Technology Alliance outlined its opposition, including an argument that "spectrum-sensing technology [is] clearly not ready for prime time and that the FCC's white-spaces tests haven't been properly vetted." In addition, the sports alliance indicated there are alternate ways of protecting wireless microphones from interference that could be utilized.

The alliance members include Major League Baseball, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, the National Basketball Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, the PGA Tour, and the Sports Video Group.

"Since this technology is a part of the conduct of many sporting events themselves," the Sports Alliance said in its FCC filing, "this decision also threatens to disrupt the actual performance of these events as well."

In a separate filing this week, Motorola CEO Greg Brown urged the FCC to vote in favor of opening white spaces up for unlicensed use because the action would pave the way for effective deployment of fixed and mobile broadband services, particularly in rural areas.

"Over more than fur years of debate the commission has considered all aspects of the technology necessary to allow use of the TV white space while fully protecting incumbents," Brown said in his filing. "Based on this careful deliberation, including extensive testing of devices, the chairman [Kevin Martin] has put forward a plan that allows the TV white space effort to move forward responsibly."

Google has spearheaded the drive to approve the white-spaces spectrum, which exists alongside the 700-MHz band. Google has argued that the white-space spectrum could be used for handsets as early as December 2009 if the FCC approves the measure. Opponents have argued that use of the spectrum could interfere with existing transmissions.