- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

Google Inc. co-founder Larry Page yesterday said the country is wasting much of its wireless spectrum and called on federal regulators to free up a slice of airwaves owned by broadcasters to promote increased broadband access.

Mr. Page, in Washington to meet with lawmakers and members of the Federal Communications Commission, said access to the spectrum - the empty channels or “white spaces” between the occupied broadcast channels - would give way to a powerful wireless technology that he referred to as “Wi-Fi on steroids.”

“I think that’s a huge opportunity for our economy, for communications in general and just kind of for efficiency and so on,” said Mr. Page, who co-founded the Internet search giant in 1998 while a graduate student at Stanford University. “Spectrum’s not like water - it’s not like if we don’t use it there’s some benefit. By not using it there’s a great resource that we’re just not using.”

Google is part of a coalition of consumer groups, advocacy organizations and high-tech firms lobbying the FCC to open up unlicensed white spaces as it did with the band of spectrum where Wi-Fi operates. By contrast, the agency auctions off licensed spectrum to wireless carriers and other entities that have sole rights to it.

Originally designed to prevent interference between broadcast channels, the white spaces lie fallow. When the nation converts to digital television in February, digital-broadcast signals will take up less spectrum than the analog signals they replace. Technology companies say consumer devices could be embedded with spectrum-sensing technology that would prevent interference with any bands in use.

The FCC has tested prototype devices provided by technology firms. But the devices malfunctioned or shut down in several instances, a point that has been seized on by the plan’s biggest opponents, broadcasters.

Led by their trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters, they say allowing consumer devices to operate in the white spaces would interfere with broadcasts, disrupting the transition to digital TV.

“Given the numerous device failures, it seems a little disingenuous for Mr. Page to simply dismiss the interference concerns that have been raised by not just TV broadcasters, but sports leagues, Broadway theater groups, wireless microphone manufacturers and roughly 70 members of Congress,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said yesterday.

In a talk yesterday sponsored by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public-policy institute in the District, Mr. Page accused broadcasters of politicizing the issue. He said that, like any other consumer device, any device that uses white space would be tested and certified by the FCC for noninterference before it was allowed to go on the market.

Mr. Page also noted that Google’s interest in increased broadband access isn’t completely altruistic.

“For us, even being a little bit selfish, that translates into more revenue for us. If we have 10 percent better connectivity in the U.S., then we have 10 percent more revenue,” he said.

But Mr. Page stressed the Mountain View, Calif., company’s commitment to “openness,” giving as an example the open-source Android mobile platform and the search leader’s push for “open-access” rules in a recent FCC spectrum auction. Under the rules, the winner of the spectrum, Verizon Wireless, must allow consumers to operate devices of their choice on the network.