The American Broadband for Communities Act of 2006 (S. 2332) or ABC Act and the Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (S. 2327) or WINN Act were introduced at the end of last week. They both are great steps forward to promoting broadband deployment, in this case, over wireless.
Both bills anticipate using radio spectrum in bands that, at least in part, are already being used by broadcast television. This television spectrum is what they call “beach-front property.” Why? Well, first, they're carrying video signals, so they provide some high-bandwidth. And, as you know, TV signals can go through the walls of your home or office building. Imagine what it would be like if you didn't lose cell phone coverage when you walked into a building? Or if your WiFi carried consistent signal from your downstairs home office to your upstairs bedroom. The spectrum that TV runs over would negate those problems.
So now you'd probably be asking, “So, um, didn't you say that that spectrum is already being used by broadcast TV?” Yes, I did. But to be more precise, I should have said that the spectrum is being reserved for broadcast television. It turns out, there's a lot of that spectrum not being used, even though it's partitioned off by the FCC for the use of TV. It's those empty channels and the space in between the used channels that we're talking about here–also known as white spaces.
How much of these white spaces aren't being used? Well, in the rural state of Alaska, where Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens is from, the city of Juneau's white space consist of 74% of the digital broadcast spectrum(PDF). There's a lot of white space around–take a look at FreePress' analysis of it.
But just because these white spaces exist, that doesn't necessarily mean they can easily be used. Why? Because everywhere will have different white spaces. Think about it: the TV channels used here in DC are different than that of say, Ohio.
Great, so now what? Well, this is where it gets interesting. These bills promote policy that most likely will employ smart-radio technology (PDF)–a technology that is smart enough to not interfere with existing broadcasts. Off-roaders know the adage as: “Tread-lightly.” So as not to interfere with radio signals, a smart radio “listens before it speaks.” Additionally, because these wireless network devices are more likely to be shorter-distance radios (think how far WiFi goes in comparison to the signal from a TV tower), they don't have to speak as loudly, and will be that much less likely to interfere with other signals.
This sounds great, when can we get started? Well, there is one major concern. It doesn't have to do with technology or science behind providing broadband over these bands–that's doable, and it will clearly be a major boon to those in rural areas currently without fast Internet access. No, the problem is not a practical one, it's a political one. Namely, the television broadcasters are very protective of “their” spectrum, (or more correctly, “their” spectrum that they have been given by the FCC on behalf of the public). And even though the facts show that smart radios won't provide interference, you're soon going to see “studies” that call those facts into question.
Any guess who the funders of those studies will be?
We have a great opportunity to offer so many consumers a fast Internet connection by using spectrum efficiently. Let's not waste it. Give the following Senators a call and thank them for their leadership roles in bringing this subject to the forefront: Senator Ted Stevens (AK), Senator George Allen (VA), Senator John Sununu (NH), Senator John Kerry (MA), and Senator Barbara Boxer (CA).
But don't stop there, call your Senators today and ask them to support broadband over the TV white spaces!