Historic FCC Vote Opens "White Spaces" - Likely to Increase Access to Affordable Broadband

[Source: Free Press]

Millions of Americans who do not have basic Internet access or are forced to use antiquated and slow dial-up connections will finally get some relief.

In a remarkable victory for the American public, on November 4, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to open the vacant public airwaves between TV channels -- called "white spaces" -- for high-speed Internet access.

After an exhaustive study (http://www.fcc.gov/oet/), the federal agency has found that we can open these unused airwaves for everyone. New technology is available to expand and improve broadband access and wireless communications across the country.

Without affordable and accessible Internet choices, too many people are left on the wrong side of the digital divide -- virtually forgotten in a nation that increasingly demands high-speed Internet access to engage socially, politically and economically.

The FCC’s decision comes despite tough pressure from powerful corporate lobbyists who wanted to keep white spaces for themselves.

Opportunity Knocks

In the early days of television, the government established empty areas between TV channels to guard against broadcast interference. Over the years, great advances in technology have eliminated the need for these buffers.

New technology also makes broadband Internet service a viable option for this unused spectrum. White spaces will bring universal, affordable high-speed Internet access to millions of Americans now left off the grid.

Nearly every television market in the United States has empty broadcast channels. In Juneau, Alaska, for example, as much as 74 percent of the broadcast spectrum could carry wireless Internet services. In the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, where the airwaves are considerably more congested, 40 percent of the spectrum could be made available for new Internet and mobile services.

Companies like Motorola, Phillips and Microsoft have developed new wireless technology that protects broadcast channels and other services, such as wireless microphones, from interference.

The National Association of Broadcasters pulled out scare tactics up to the last minute of the vote, trying to convince the FCC that white spaces devices would cause television interference. But after years of study and public input, the FCC voted to give America one of its best opportunities to close the digital divide.

The Internet in Your Pocket

The FCC voted to allow white spaces to remain “unlicensed” — just like Wi-Fi — so anyone can use them to innovate and compete. And they did, despite outside pressure.

Powerful cell phone companies were pushing the government to auction off white spaces licenses to the highest bidder. This would have given the richest companies the exclusive right to determine how they are used. Broadcasters might simply sit on a white spaces license to prevent others from accessing the public airwaves; a major cell phone company won't use the spectrum to compete with its existing businesses, keeping prices high and stifling innovation.

Making white spaces use unlicensed ensures that they won't be hoarded or squandered. Instead, they can be used to introduce new mobile applications. Unlicensed white spaces will open up a dynamic market for new competitors and ideas.

Imagine a farmer installing mobile devices on machinery or even livestock to ensure broadband coverage in remote areas, or a firefighter transmitting video from inside a burning building to his crew on the street with a handheld wireless camera. The possibilities are real, powerful and life-altering.