Microsoft lobs new volley in fight for 'white spaces'

Wants another shot at Internet test

In what is shaping up as another front in the battle between old and new media, Microsoft on Monday told federal regulators that the device it assembled to beam high-speed Internet service over unused broadcast frequencies failed a critical test because it was broken.

Broadcasters are fighting a coalition of high-tech companies over the use of unoccupied TV channels known as "white spaces," contending that the space can't be used because it will interfere with TV channels and wireless microphones. Microsoft's failure in the original test gave the broadcast industry fuel to use at the commission in their fight over the frequencies.

On Monday, National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton accused Microsoft of "playing Russian roulette with America's access to interference-free TV reception."

But Microsoft, Netherlands-based Royal Philips Electronics, Google Inc., Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and EarthLink contend that using a test of a broken machine as a policy argument is a bogus ploy.

Microsoft sent the agency a letter explaining that a subsequent test determined that the equipment was defective and that a working device demonstrated that the machine did what it is supposed to do: find the digital TV and wireless microphone signals.

"It is also important to note that the device submitted by Philips was found by the FCC in its report to competently detect both digital television and wireless microphone signals in the laboratory," said Jack Krumholtz, managing director of government affairs at Microsoft, in a statement Monday. "We remain confident that the unused channels in the television spectrum band can successfully be used without harmful interference to incumbent licensees such as television and wireless microphone services."

But broadcasters also are confident that the machines threaten to derail their switch to digital TV with its promise of more channels or high-definition picture and CD-quality sound.

"Nearly a decade ago, broadcasters and government launched the historic public-private partnership that is bringing the next generation of television to American consumers," Wharton said. "Now that the DTV transition is near completion, up steps Microsoft and its allies to jeopardize all that has been accomplished."

FCC engineers have scheduled a meeting for Thursday, when they plan to go over their testing procedures and other issues. Agency officials declined comment Monday about the proceeding.