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FCC raises eyebrow at Google 'white-space' play

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US Federal Communications Commission commissioner Robert McDowell has raised an eyebrow at Google's request to serve as an administrator of a national database detailing the use of "white-space" spectrum, Mountain View's latest effort to accelerate the deployment of unlicensed broadband devices in the unused TV airwaves.

During an appearance earlier this week on CSPAN, McDowell was asked if someone with a business interest in the TV white spaces - i.e. Google - should administer a database meant to protect the interest TV stations and other users already using adjacent airwaves.

"That's an excellent point. It's something that still needs to be examined," he said. "Historically, the administration of phone numbers... that has been administrated by a neutral third party, by someone that does not have business interests."

Google was among a coalition of tech outfits that first floated the idea of allowing unlicensed WiFi-esque devices into the white spaces, portions of the licensed television spectrum that go unused by terrestrial TV channels. The FCC approved the plan in November 2008, after heavy lobbying from Google, strange bedfellow Microsoft, and other big tech names - and heavy opposition from those already in the TV spectrum, including television broadcasters and wireless mic users.

To protect existing broadcasters, FCC mandated the creation of a geolocation database that details what spectrum is in use and where. The idea is that unlicensed broadband devices will tap this database before sending or receiving data, using the info in tandem with spectrum sensing technologies to avoid interference.

In February 2009, Google joined Comsearch, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Motorola, and Neustar to form the White Spaces Database Working Group (WSDG), an effort to build such a database. At the time, Google said it did not intend to serve as a database administrator. "We don't plan to become a database administrator ourselves, but do want to work with the FCC to make sure that a white spaces database gets up and running," wrote Google counsel Richard Whitt in a blog post. "We hope that this will unfold in a matter of months, not years."

But nearly a year on, Google has changed its mind. With a Monday blog post, Whitt announced that the company had asked to FCC to name it as an administrator. "Today, we took another step towards making 'Wi-Fi on steroids' a reality for consumers. In a submission to the FCC, we're asking the Commission to designate Google as one of potentially several administrators of a white spaces geolocation database," he said.

"Why are we offering to do this? We continue to be big believers in the potential for this spectrum to revolutionize wireless broadband, and we think it's important for us to step forward and offer our assistance to make that vision a reality. Since launching the White Spaces Database Group last February, we've been working with other stakeholders to exchange ideas and perspectives on how to best operate a working database, and we believe we're in a strong position to build and successfully manage one.

"We propose to build a database that is publicly accessible and searchable, so that any individual could access and review the data," Whitt wrote ®

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