Broadway offers FCC help in testing ‘white spaces’ devices

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may go to the Great White Way to resolve a high-stakes lobbying battle that has involved national broadcasters, Internet giants and the audio industry.

In a filing to the FCC last week, the League of American Theatres & Producers offered to conduct “real-time tests in a Broadway theatre with the press present” of “white spaces” devices — portable, unlicensed transmitters that would use parts of the spectrum typically occupied by television broadcasters to emit broadband Internet signals.

The League is worried such devices will interfere with or block signals used by performers during theater shows.

“Broadway is asking for a real-time test of the white space equipment because the impact of devices that don’t work will be devastating to not only Broadway … but to many other theaters and venues across this nation,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the League’s executive director.

High-tech giants like Microsoft and Google believe devices they are developing will be able to use the spectrum space to improve Internet networks without disrupting TV or microphone signals.

The League contends that New York City, with its dozens of television networks and mass of cell phone traffic, offers the perfect place to test those claims.

“As the song says, ‘If they can make it here, they can make it anywhere,’ ” reads the filing.

Representatives for both sides agreed that the FCC should test the devices as much as possible.

“It is essential to have tests in a real-time environment and context. Broadway is a very important one,” said Catherine Wang, partner at Bingham McCutchen and counsel to the Microphone Interests Coalition. The League is part of her coalition.

“We really think this ought to be about the science. The more testing, the better,” said Scott Blake Harris, managing partner at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis and counsel to the White Spaces Coalition, which consists of several IT companies working on the devices.

The League is not the only one offering to help test the devices, according to a review of recent ex parte filings filed with the commission.

For example, Motorola held an Oct. 19 meeting with several FCC staff members to discuss providing a device for testing.
The company is a “strong supporter” of using white spaces but also believes others’ signals need to and can be protected from interference, according to a white paper it filed earlier.

Meanwhile, Lectrosonics, a Rio Rancho, N.M., wireless microphone company, has supplied the commission with two of its microphones. 

Carl Winkler, Lectrosonics’ director of business development, said in an e-mail that his company was responding to an FCC announcement in early October that called for a second round of testing.

The commission wants to test white spaces devices alongside low-power emitters, such as wireless microphones, according to Winkler.

The FCC’s first round of testing this July ended up with mixed results for the IT giants. One prototype, which was later found to be broken, failed its test but another scored well.

In remarks made to reporters in early October, Martin could not estimate when further tests would occur. No date has been set for the potential Broadway test, according to the League.