White Spaces Counterpoint: An SVG deconstruction of a recent WSJ column
By Ken Kerschbaumer
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured a column on White Spaces by Lee Gomes that, if it wasn’t in such a well-respected newspaper would be laugh out-loud funny. Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal has some clout and an article like the one below is incredibly dangerous. That said, in the interest of fun (and a quasi-rebuttal) we give you the following deconstruction of the column…
Granny is a lovable gray-haired lady in a pink sweater who likes nothing better than to sit quietly at home watching her favorite TV shows. It’s one of her few remaining joys in life. Why, then, are those billionaire moguls in the high-tech industry trying to take it away?
Granny isn’t real: She recently was featured in a TV ad airing in the Washington area. But the scare tactics are. Both are concoctions of the nation’s broadcasting lobby, which is currently doing all it can to stop one of the best ideas a federal agency has had in a long time.
I HAVE TO ADMIT THAT THE PHRASE “ONE OF THE BEST IDEAS A FEDERAL AGENCY HAS HAD IN A LONG TIME” DOESN’T INSPIRE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE GIVEN THE GENERALLY LOW QUALITY OF IDEAS COMING OUT OF FEDERAL AGENCIES.
The brainstorm belongs to the Federal Communications Commission, which is looking into whether a new generation of wireless computing devices could make use of the empty “white space” spectrum associated with television broadcasts. For technical reasons, not all broadcast TV frequencies are in use in any one geographic area — think of how some of the channels on your TV are empty.
EMPTY? WHITE SPACES ARE THERE FOR A REASON.
Spectrum-policy groups have long regarded this white space as a wasted national resource, one that if properly tapped could help close the appalling bandwidth gap, both wired and wireless, between the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. The FCC is testing whether WifI can run in these white spaces without interfering with normal television broadcasts, even though most Americans get their TV from cable and satellite; a determination is expected later this year.
SAYING THAT MOST AMERICANS GET TV FROM SATELLITE AND CABLE OVERLOOKS THE NEARLY 20 MILLION AMERICANS WHO RELY ON OVER-THE-AIR TV SIGNALS. IN ADDITION, EVEN HOUSEHOLDS WITH CABLE OR SATELLITE HAVE SECONDARY TV SETS THAT ARE NOT HOOKED UP TO CABLE OR SATELLITE. SO LET’S PUT THE TOTAL UNIVERSE OF TV SETS THAT RECEIVE TV VIA ANTENNA AT SOMEWHERE IN THE (CONSERVATIVE) 100 MILLION RANGE.
ALSO THE WORD APPALLING SHOULD BE SAVED FOR, WELL, THINGS THAT ARE REALLY APPALLING…THINGS LIKE FLYING PLANES INTO TALL BUILDINGS, THE U.S. INFANT MORTALITY RATE, RERUNS OF FULL HOUSE, OR, OKAY, I’LL BITE, FCC WHITE SPACE DEVICES TEST RESULTS.
The white-space proposal has been in the news in recent weeks because of its strong backing by Microsoft and Google, among others. White space, they say, could help create a “WifI on steroids,” with faster connection speeds running over longer distances than are possible now in the hot spots common in homes and coffee shops.
DIDN’T AT&T AND VERIZON JUST SPEND $19 BILLION FOR SPECTRUM THAT WOULD ALLOW THEM TO DEVELOP “WIFI ON STEROIDS”? LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT…COMPANIES THAT LOST THE AUCTION FOR 700 MHZ SPECTRUM NOW WANT THE FCC TO GIVE THEM FREE SPECTRUM? HAVE YOU GOTTEN THE AT&T OR VERIZON PERSPECTIVE ON THIS? I AM SURE THEY LOVE THE IDEA OF THE GOVERNMENT TAKING THEIR $19 BILLION AND THEN HANDING OUT FREE SPECTRUM TO ALL.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL IS A SHINING LIGHT FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN FREE MARKETS…NOT FREE HANDOUTS FROM THE GOVERNMENT.
As for interference with TV broadcasts — or with wireless microphones, which use this same spectrum — that can be easily handled. Before transmitting any data, a white-space networking device would “listen” to detect if a frequency is in use. A version of this “smart sensing” is already widely and successfully deployed by the U.S. military.
FIRST, SENSING DOESN’T WORK.SECOND, JUST BECAUSE A FREQUENCY IS FREE AT ONE MOMENT DOESN’T MEAN THAT AN HOUR LATER THE PRODUCERS OF AMERICAN IDOL, THE SUPER BOWL, OR ANY BROADWAY PRODUCTION ARE NOT PLANNING ON USING IT.
SAME GOES FOR DTV INTERFERENCE…
UNLESS SENSING CAN PREDICT WHAT FREQUENCIES WILL BE USED IN THE FUTURE IT IS SENSELESS TO DISCUSS SENSING.
Broadcasters, however, insist that smart sensing just doesn’t work.
THEY INSIST BECAUSE THEY ARE RIGHT.
The National Association of Broadcasters and its allies warned in an interview that we shouldn’t play “interference roulette” that would “disenfranchise” Americans dependent on broadcast television, “the bulwark that has tied the nation together from an information standpoint.”
THE SNARKY USE OF QUOTE MARKS IS UNCOOL…
As evidence of the technical failure of smart sensing, the broadcast lobby points to the occasional failures in the white-space prototypes being tested by the FCC — the most recent of which occurred just last week.
LET’S TRY THIS ANOTHER WAY:
“AS EVIDENCE OF THE TECHNICAL FAILURE OF HYDROGEN-FILLED BLIMPS, THE FAA POINTS TO THE OCCASSIONAL FAILURES IN TRANS-ATLANTIC TRAVEL LIKE THE HINDENBERG.”
THE WHITE SPACE COALITION SAYS SMART SENSING WORKS. IT DOESN’T…AS EVIDENCED BE THE FAILURES.
But the tech companies that supplied those prototypes, including Microsoft, Philips and Motorola, say they are early-testing devices whose occasional hiccups indicate nothing about the basic soundness of the smart-sensing/white-space idea.
JUST LIKE BASIC SOUNDNESS TO IDEAS LIKE HYDROGEN BLIMPS, FORD PINTOS, AND THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES WINNING THE WORLD SERIES.
Rather than just allow the technicians at the FCC to make a calm technical assessment of what should be a dry matter of spectrum physics, the broadcasters are lobbying, with newspaper and TV ads, to inflame emotions.
Enter Granny. In her commercial, she became a bit crotchety when the picture on her screen started to break up because of interference from “unlicensed devices.” Intones the announcer, “If high-tech companies like Microsoft get their way, your picture could freeze and become unmatchable.”
While the broadcasting lobby is one of Washington’s strongest, this battle might be a tough one even for them. For one thing, they need to convince politicians and regulators that the global technology industry, home to all the tech miracles of the past few decades, is fundamentally incapable of a designing a relatively simple bit of hardware.
YOWZA…TECH MIRACLES? NONE OF THESE DEVELOPMENTS WERE MIRACLES…THEY TOOK TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HOURS OF DEVELOPMENTAL WORK TO TURN VISION INTO REALITY. TECHNOLOGY EVOLVES…IT DOESN’T JUST APPEAR.
BlackBerrys, iPhones and the like easily handle spectrum tasks that are every bit as complicated as anything a white-space device would need to do.
YOU MEAN LIKE THE BLACKBERRY THAT HAS PANELISTS AND SPEAKERS SCRAMBLING INTO THEIR POCKETS WHEN IT BUZZES DURING A PRESENTATION WHERE THEY ARE USING A WIRELESS MIC? YOU HAVE HEARD THAT BUZZ NOISE AT A SPEECH OR CONFERENCE, CORRECT? GUESS WHAT? IT’S INTERFERENCE!
OH…AND ANOTHER THING. THE IPHONE HANDLES THOSE TASKS BECAUSE IT USES DIFFERENT SPECTRUM…GET IT? USE DIFFERENT SPECTRUM AND, VOILA, NO INTERFERENCE!
An industry that can put the Library of Congress in something the size of a fingernail ought to be able to figure it out.
YOU HAVE OFFICIALLY JUMPED THE RAILS AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. ARE YOU AWARE OF A NEW STORAGE TECHNOLOGY THE REST OF THE WORLD HASN’T LEARNED ABOUT???
So why, then, are broadcasters so opposed to the idea?
BECAUSE IT WILL SET THE TV INDUSTRY BACK 80 YEARS AND THE AUDIO INDUSTRY BACK 40.
Maybe out of habit, or maybe because they want to use the white space for WIFI themselves one day.
WRONG. THEY DON’T LIKE IT BECAUSE IT WILL SET THE TV INDUSTRY BACKS 80 YEARS AND THE AUDIO INDUSTRY BACK 40.
Sashay Menorah, a spectrum activist with the New America Foundation policy group in Washington, has another theory: That with smarter use of the spectrum, entirely new forms of broadcasting will become possible that will threaten the monopoly enjoyed by the broadcasters who happen to own spectrum today.
FIRST, THEY DON’T OWN THE SPECTRUM…THE PUBLIC DOES. BROADCASTERS HAVE ACCESS TO THE SPECTRUM BECAUSE THEY SERVE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST. THEY ALSO ARE HELD TO VERY STRICT INDECENCY STANDARDS.
– IN YOUR UTOPIAN VISION WILL GOOGLE AND MICROSOFT HAVE TO ENSURE THAT THEY OFFER SERVICES THAT SERVE THE PUBLIC INTEREST?
– WILL THEY BE HELD TO INDECENCY STANDARDS AND HAVE TO GUARANTEE THAT THE SERVICES ARE NOT USED FOR THE DISTRIBUTION OF PORNOGRAPHY, ETC.?
-WILL THEY USE PUBLIC RESOURCES TO CREATE SERVICES THAT THE PUBLIC HAS TO PAY FOR OR WILL THEY BE FREE FOR ALL TO USE?
-WILL THE FCC REFUND ATT AND VERIZON THEIR $19 BILLION?
Perhaps as a way of fighting back, white-space activists should take a clue from the broadcasters, and create their own Granny. This Granny would still be able to watch all her favorite broadcast TV shows, because properly using white space won’t interfere with them. But she’d also be able to use her new white-space WIFI data network to talk with her grandchildren over two-way, high-definition video.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO JUMP THE TRACKS TWICE IN THE SAME ARTICLE? DID SOMEONE ACTUALLY TELL YOU THIS WAS POSSIBLE? THAT IF THE PUBLIC HAD ACCESS TO WHITE SPACE SPECTRUM THERE IS ENOUGH BANDWIDTH FOR OVER-THE-AIR HD TELECONFERENCING? MY ONLY QUESTION IS: WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING AND WHERE CAN I BUY IT?
Or to check in with her doctor without leaving home.
TRUE STORY…THE OTHER WEEK I HAD A BAD COLD. SO I PICKED UP MY PHONE, CALLED MY DOCTOR, AND ORDERED A PRESCRIPTION. ALL WITHOUT LEAVING HOME. AMAZING WHAT THESE PHONES CAN DO…
Or to spend the afternoon reminiscing with girlfriends in other cities.
TRUE STORY, PART TWO…THE OTHER WEEK I HAD TO SPEAK TO MORE THAN ONE PERSON AT A TIME. SO I PICKED UP MY PHONE, DIALED A NUMBER, AND, VOILA, WE WERE ALL TALKING TO EACH OTHER—AND WE WERE IN DIFFERENT CITIES! AMAZING WHAT THESE TELECONFERENCING SYSTEMS CAN DO.
She can’t do a lot of that now in part because U.S. broadcasters are hogging huge swaths of bandwidth that they don’t really need. I wonder what Granny would say were she to find that out; you know how crotchety old people can be.