With all the talk about the 700 MHz auction, it is easy to forget that the neighboring spectrum could be used to provide wireless broadband as well. No one talks about this spectrum because it's not for sale. But what if I were to tell you there are chunks of this valuable spectrum lying unused, just waiting to be used to offer you wireless broadband. Is that something you might be interested in? There is such spectrum and it is called “white space.”
White space refers to the frequencies of television spectrum where no channel is broadcasting and the spaces between the channels that are left vacant in order to prevent interference. If someone bought the license to broadcast over channel 18, channel 17 and 19 might be used as buffer channels. But if I had a device that the FCC had certified did not cause interference with neighboring channels, why shouldn't I be allowed to use this devise? Because the FCC won't let me in the name of interference… at least not yet.
The FCC does have a plan to open up this valuable spectrum eventually; last October it filed a notice on proposed rule making addressing this issue. Public Knowledge recently signed on to a letter that was sent to members of Congress Friday, asking them to “encourage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complete its proceeding to permit unlicensed use of the vacant channels in the television band known as the 'TV white spaces.'”
Currently, the FCC has three options:
Nothing: it could continue preventing the white space spectrum from being used to provide wireless broadband. Wasting such a scarce resource has an enormous cost to society. We hope the FCC rectifies this inefficiency promptly.
Licensed: it could allow the spectrum to be used by licensed users only. Though this would increase the spectrum used for wireless broadband, it would also create large barriers to entry for entrepreneurs wishing to create a wireless network or manufacturers wishing to build wireless devices. Though licensed spectrum can be useful, plenty of spectrum has already been and will be auctioned off in the near future.
Unlicensed: it could allow the TV white space to be used by unlicensed devices. Doing so would nurture innovation in wireless technologies as well as result in new opportunities for broadband connectivity. The FCC currently allows unlicensed devices to operate in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands of spectrum. These bands have been breeding grounds for innovation in the past, however they are considered “junk” bands of spectrum that cannot transmit over long distances. By opening prime spectrum to these application, device and wireless provider entrepreneurs, we expect to see the same level of innovation on a grander scale.
White space has the potential to help increase competition and technological advances to the broadband market. Because white space is especially prevalent in rural areas where the demand for broadcast licenses is low, it is well suited to provide wireless broadband over long distances, thereby increasing broadband penetration rates in rural areas. Opening the white space would also allow more interconnection for small wireless Internet providers, much like the open access rules we have been supporting. Wireless applications and devices could improve at an unprecedented rate once they can bypass the difficult process of being approved and licensed by wireless network providers. The possibilities for prime spectrum opened to innovators and entrepreneurs are endless.
Please do your part to help white space realize its full potential by contacting your member of Congress, asking them to support legislation to force the FCC to quickly open white space for unlicensed devices.