By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 13, 2007
Today Microsoft plans to try to convince regulators that it can connect consumers to high-speed Internet over unused television airwaves without interfering with existing broadcasts.
In a document that it plans to file today with the Federal Communications Commission, Microsoft disputes the agency's recent findings that prototype devices either interfered with TV signals or could not detect them to avoid interference. Microsoft's first prototype was defective, but the firm said another model worked successfully in a demonstration it gave to the FCC last week.
The filing is Microsoft's latest attempt to get FCC commissioners to approve a plan that would let a new generation of portable wireless devices connect to the Internet without relying on existing wireless carriers. The devices in question, which were designed and made by Microsoft, would use vacant TV airwaves, known as white space, to carry Internet service to homes and offices, including those in rural areas. The airwaves will be available when TV broadcasters move to digital signals in early 2009.
The FCC plans to hold a meeting Thursday to discuss testing options for white-space devices.
Microsoft is part of a coalition of high-tech companies, including Intel, Google and Dell, that sees white space as a way to connect such products as digital cameras and music players to the Web. Proponents of the technology argue that TV-spectrum-based Internet service could be less expensive and more accessible than current phone and fiber-optic lines, forcing other high-speed Web service providers to lower their prices.
But the FCC must balance those companies' interests with those of broadcasters, sports leagues, cable operators and phone companies that worry their signals might cross, causing poor reception, static and dropped calls.
Two weeks ago, FCC engineers found that the original prototype caused static on existing broadcasts.
But the new prototype "reliably detected occupied television channels," the company said in the filing it plans to submit today. Microsoft also discussed potential improvements to the device to eliminate interference with wireless microphones, such as those used at sports games and concerts.
Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, an opponent of Microsoft's plan, said he is confident the FCC's report is accurate and that Microsoft's "self-serving" agenda may jeopardize "America's access to interference-free television reception."