Wireless Devices on White Spaces May Drown Out Gospel Message

Tech giants like Google and Microsoft are pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to allow them to broadcast wireless frequencies on television "white spaces" but the idea is meeting opposition from Christian broadcasters who worry the move would interfere with the Gospel message.

Currently, television "white spaces," or chunks of unlicensed spectrum, go unused, acting as buffer zones between the occupied television frequencies. But the debate over how these unused frequencies is intensifying as the Feb. 2009 conversion deadline from analog to digital transmission approaches.

Over the summer, the FCC has been testing whether proposed wireless devices that will operate in the white spaces can function without interfering with broadcasters on nearby frequencies. The FCC will make a decision on the white spaces in the next few months.

Big tech companies and wireless device manufacturers see the unused frequencies as carrying huge potential for making wireless broadband more accessible to both urban and rural areas.

But Christian broadcasters have been sounding off their objections.

"It all sounds very logical and like a good idea. The problem is that it really affects our members," said Craig Parshall, senior vice president of National Religious Broadcasters, which represents 1,400 Christian broadcasters in TV, radio, internet and churches.

Speaking to The Christian Post, Parshall said the new generation of wireless devices occupying the white spaces could interfere with low-powered Christian radio stations or churches that use wireless microphones during service.

"Sunday services may be tremendously impacted," he said. "Almost every pastor I know … uses wireless microphones during service."

On any given Sunday, megachurches houses thousands of congregants, each of whom could be carrying a wireless device. The problem also extends beyond church walls to someone with a wireless device driving within two miles radius of the church or someone at a nearby mall, added Parshall.

Christian broadcasters have reason to worry. Past tests conducted by the FCC found the proposed wireless devices interfered with other broadcasts and were unable to accurately detect TV or wireless microphone signals.

Last October, a group of pastors, including Megachurch pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, asked the Commission in a letter to not permit new mobile electronic devices from operating in the frequencies currently used by wireless microphones.

The NRB sent its own letter to the FCC at the end of July, asking that the devices be approved for white spaces only after the "auto-sensing products being tested have passed with flying colors on multiple levels."

NRB President Frank Wright stated in the letter that the organization was formed with the mission of keeping the "doors of electronic media open for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

"The results have not convinced us in the least that these devices won't interfere with wireless microphones in churches," said Parshall.

"We want all the homework done, all the I's doted and all the T's crossed before FCC gives the order."

The National Association of Broadcasters and Verizon Wireless also oppose the mobile internet devices using the white spaces.