Lawmakers call for smart grid access to wireless spectrum

U.S. Representatives Matsui and Eshoo ask the FCC to allow smart grid devices on the white space spectrum

Two U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow Internet-connected, electricity-monitoring devices to access unused television spectrum.

The FCC is scheduled to vote Thursday on final rules allowing mobile broadband devices to use the so-called white spaces, spectrum assigned for television use but not occupied by TV stations. But U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo, both California Democrats, called on the FCC to allow so-called smart grid devices -- digital electricity meters for homes and businesses -- to also use white-space spectrum.

"As we continue to promote policies to expand broadband services, more and more consumers will expect to use their computer and wireless devices to monitor their energy usage in 'real time' whether they are at home, at work, or on vacation," Matsui and Eshoo wrote in a letter to the FCC Tuesday.

The lawmakers want the FCC to allow smart grid devices, such as smart meters and home energy management systems, to use the white spaces, a spokeswoman for Matsui said. They aren't advocating that electric utilities use the white spaces as broadband backhaul, she said.

Electric utilities would "substantially benefit" from using the white spaces, the lawmakers added. Using the white spaces spectrum, sometimes called super Wi-Fi, utilities could automate meter reading and send outage notifications more efficiently, Matsui and Eshoo wrote. The white spaces will help utilities and customers use energy more efficiently, they wrote.

"We should be promoting policies to reach energy efficiency goals, and unused TV white spaces that will enable further development of smart grid technologies," the two lawmakers said. "[We] support the efforts the FCC is making to finalize policies that will allow devices and technologies to fully leverage the white space spectrum to move our nation towards a more sustainable energy path."

Television stations, sports leagues and wireless microphone makers have opposed the FCC's push to open up the white spaces to mobile devices. TV stations have raised concerns that the devices would interfere with existing TV signals, while sports leagues and wireless microphone makers have worried that the devices would interfere with wireless microphones that already operate in the white space spectrum.

A representative of the National Association of Broadcasters didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on the proposal to use the white spaces for smart grid devices.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationregulationAnna EshooNational Association of BroadcastersU.S. Federal Communications CommissionmobilegovernmentDoris Matsuibroadband

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