Mega-church Steps up Criticism of White Spaces Plan

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Joel Osteen, senior pastor of the huge Lakewood Church in Texas, has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to reject a request by several tech companies to allow proposed wireless broadband devices to operate on spectrum now occupied by wireless microphones and television stations.

Osteen, whose Houston mega-church draws about 40,000 attendees a week, asked the FCC to turn down requests by some tech vendors and consumer groups to open up the so-called white spaces in TV spectrum to new wireless devices.

The proposed devices will "most certainly interfere" with the church's ability to operate, Osteen said in a letter to the FCC.

"There is clearly no reliable technology that can protect wireless microphones from the interference that comes from new portables devices operating in the same or adjacent channels," wrote Osteen, whose weekly television broadcast attracts millions of viewers. "Static and audio dropouts due to interference from an unlicensed mobile wireless device would create a devastating distraction."

Lakewood Church was one of more than 70 U.S. churches that signed on to an October 2007 letter expressing concern over the FCC's testing of prototype white space devices. That letter also asked the FCC to reject requests from tech vendors including Microsoft, Google, Dell and Intel to allow wireless broadband devices to operate on unused channels in spectrum assigned to broadcast television.

Osteen's new letter comes as the FCC nears a decision about the use of white spaces devices, following several rounds of testing over the last year and a half. In a handful of FCC tests, prototype devices have failed, but generally because the devices stopped working, not because the devices interfered with TV stations or wireless microphones.

In addition to churches, the National Association of Broadcasters, wireless microphone makers and some mobile phone carriers have opposed the white spaces proposal. But several consumer groups, including Public Knowledge, Free Press and U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), have called on the FCC to open up the white spaces spectrum.

Both sides have accused the other of lobbying based on their narrow interests.

The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA), one coalition pushing for the FCC to approve white spaces devices, has "no interest or intention of harming the wireless microphone business or adversely affecting their users," said Jake Ward, a spokesman for the group.

The FCC tests have shown that white space devices do not interfere with TV or wireless microphones, Ward added. Wireless microphones never received FCC approval to operate in the TV spectrum, he added.

"The FCC has recently concluded 18 month of exhaustive tests that show indisputably that white space technology is feasible and harmless," he said. "The issue of whether or not wireless microphones should be allowed to continue operating illegally in the broadcast spectrum is an issue for the FCC and their experts, and our only interest is ensuring that this once in a generation opportunity to spur innovation is realized."

White spaces advocates say new broadband devices will stimulate new innovation in the tech industry and open up competition in the broadband market.

Osteen's letter, dated Monday, comes as both sides step up their lobbying efforts on the FCC's white spaces proceeding. The FCC is expected to rule on the white spaces requests within months. In late September, sports TV station ESPN filed a comment with the FCC saying that the agency's tests showed that spectrum-sensing technology was unreliable. ESPN called for additional testing of other technologies.

At the same time, the WIA released a video describing the white spaces and its vision for their use.

But Osteen, in his letter, came to a different conclusion about the FCC's white spaces tests, saying the tests did not lessen interference concerns. Tens of thousands of churches and other organizations use wireless microphones that white space devices could interfere with, he wrote.

"We have worked diligently to coordinate the use of the wireless microphone systems that we deploy in each of our services," he wrote. "Adding new electronic devices to the mix would make our audio programming and coordination virtually impossible."

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