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Thursday, June 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Telecom bill could affect Microsoft, area's safety

Seattle Times Washington bureau

The massive telecommunications bill before the U.S. Senate has many potential impacts on Washington state. They include:

• About $25 million is targeted for the Seattle area as part of a new regional program to prepare for emergency communications during a disaster or terrorist attack. The "Strategic Technology Reserves Initiative" designates Bothell as the center that will serve Puget Sound with backup communications equipment. Nine other cities were designated as regional technology reserve centers.

• Microsoft got part of its wish list with a provision that would allow the use of vacant television broadcast spectrum to connect wireless handheld devices with the Internet. By using the "white spaces" or vacant TV spectrum, the wireless device avoids relying on local mobile-phone towers.

The company wants to move forward with technology for this, but the Federal Communications Commission is concerned about potential interference from such devices with TV signals.

Microsoft lobbied heavily for this section of the bill, and had many meetings about it in recent months with the staff of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Commerce Committee that is considering the telecom bill. The high-tech community supports the innovation.

• One of the more controversial measures would limit the control that localities have over their video delivery, i.e., pay-television systems. Cable companies have lobbied for this provision, which might relieve them of having to provide public-access channels in return for their near-monopolies. Phone companies poised to enter the TV market want it because local governments could not demand that they build out and deliver video service in poorer areas.

The Consumers Union, a public-interest group, criticized the local franchise provisions in the bill because they would allow the phone companies to "redline" around poor districts.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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