FCC Gives Whites Spaces a Boost

Updated: The Federal Communications Commission has released an engineering report that increases the chances of a new wireless broadband network operating in the so-called white spaces, or unused spectrum, between digital TV channels. Such a service could compete with existing broadband networks from cellular carriers and perhaps cable and and DSL offerings. The report details the effects of interference (and there are some) from devices operating in the white spaces.
The FCC will now take comments, then create rules to determine how such white spaces devices should operate. The rules may be voted on at the next FCC public meeting held on Nov. 4. From the report:

This action will open for use a significant amount of spectrum with very desirable propagation characteristics that has heretofore lain fallow. It will also allow the development of new and innovative types of unlicensed devices that provide broadband data and other services for businesses and consumers without disrupting the incumbent television and other authorized services that operate in the TV bands. The Commission is considering whether to also allow “personal/portable” WSDs to operate in the TV spectrum.

Technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, Motorola and Dell, have all stepped forward to show their support this proposal. On the other side, several groups using the spectrum, including the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and those using wireless microphones have protested, citing the potential for interference. The FCC undertook 18 months of testing that is reflected in this report.
Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, issued the following statement:

“This isn’t about one industry versus another. And the real value of unlicensed white spaces isn’t in the devices of today — it’s in their future potential to connect all Americans to a fast, affordable, open Internet. Freeing up these powerful airwaves will create a boom in innovative technologies and expand the opportunities for citizens to communicate with one another and the rest of the world.”

It could also lead to a bonanza for device makers who can sell devices to access such spectrum, and for firms such as Google who would see more consumers online viewing more of its advertising. Depending on the quality and speed of access offered over white spaces, it might also affect the monthly data services wireless operators currently sell for $60 a pop.
However, until the FCC begins setting rules for this spectrum, it remains hard to see how this will play out in the real world. As we’ve said before, the FCC could still create rules for devices operating in this spectrum that limit the usefulness of a white spaces network.