You may recall an odd device under development by Microsoft that caused a stir in early February when it was mistaken for a Zune phone. Well, it’s back in the news and may cause even a bigger stir as John Letzing explains at MarketWatch:
When Microsoft Corp. delivers a mysterious prototype for government testing this coming week, it will mark a crucial juncture for a high-stakes bid to change the way consumers get their Internet access.
That bid has cast Microsoft and a group of powerful allies from Silicon Valley in the relatively unfamiliar role of Washington policy players.
Microsoft’s prototype, delivered on behalf of the group, is a wireless device that could provide the public with free and more widespread access to the Web instead of relying on networks owned by big telecom and cable firms.
That breakthrough, tapping into an unused part of the nation’s airwaves, is politically charged because it threatens to shift the Internet-access business away from telecom and cable companies that are historically well-connected in Washington, throwing open the field to a brand new batch of competitors.
It all hinges on how well the prototype performs in tests by the Federal Communications Commission. Microsoft and allies must prove that such devices, which can connect users via unlicensed portions of the nation’s wireless spectrum known as white spaces, won’t interfere with airwaves that major license holders acquired for large sums. While the FCC is obligated to protect license holders from such interference, several “white spaces” bills introduced in Congress have placed added pressure on the commission to wrap up the tests in a hurry.
Analysts say that if the white-space group succeeds, consumers could see a flood of new devices enabling them to bypass the networks of incumbent service providers like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. to get online. White spaces, which sit between bands used for TV, could theoretically be licensed; but the tech group is explicitly pushing to allow unlicensed use — or use similar to picking up WiFi signals at a cafe.
The group lined up with Microsoft includes Google, HP, Dell, and Intel which, while mighty in the tech world, are novices in the corridors of power compared to the telecoms and cable companies. The opposition is already on the case as well they might be:
“The telephone companies are terrified they’ll lose 40% of their wireless minutes, because you’ll be able to connect from work or home and bypass their wireless networks,” said J.H. Snider, research director of the wireless future program at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based policy institute that has long advocated to allow use of white spaces.
There’s much more in the full article, but the FCC has until July to complete testing and may decide on the matter by October.