FCC Approves Wireless Use of ‘White Space’

Nov 4, 2008  •  Post A Comment

After delaying a decision for hours, the Federal Communications Commission today gave the go-ahead to using the so-called “white space” between broadcast TV channels for new wireless devices, adding some last-minute limits on how the devices can initially be used.
Computer and consumer electronics companies including Google and Microsoft have said the availability of the white space frequencies will allow “wi-fi on steroids” and fuel the availability of high-quality video through portable devices.
They have predicted the devices would start arriving on the market a year after the FCC acted.
Broadcasters, however, have been worried that the devices would cause interference and lessen the quality of TV broadcasts.
Musical artists and theaters have also expressed concern that the new devices would interfere with wireless microphones.
In its action today, the FCC immediately allowed one kind of device that will use the white space but put off approving a second kind.
Consumer groups praised the decision.
“The FCC today took a major step to foster innovation and create new opportunities for consumers,” said a statement from a group that includes Consumers Union, the Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America. “By allowing the ‘white spaces’ between TV channels to be used for unlicensed services, the FCC put the public interest ahead of the special interests. The FCC decision has the potential to bring enormous benefits to all Americans, whether as a tool for broadband access or as an engine of innovation and job creation. It will move wireless services into the 21st century.”
Broadcasters were not as pleased.
“The commission chose a path that imperils television reception in order to satisfy the ‘free spectrum’ demands of Google and Microsoft,” said David Donovan, president of the Association of Maximum Service Television. “Even the FCC cannot contravene the laws of physics. Assertions regarding no interference cannon will not prevent damage in the real world.”
NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton issued the following statement about today’s ruling:
“While we appreciate the FCC’s attempt to address significant issues raised by broadcasters and others, every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today’s commission vote. By moving the ‘white space’ vote forward, the commission appears to have bypassed meaningful public or peer review in a proceeding of grave importance to the future of television.
“Fortunately, today’s vote is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information,” he added. “Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policymakers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV.”
In a blog post at Google.com, Larry Page, co-founder and president of products, wrote, “All eyes are on the presidential election today, but another important vote just took place at the Federal Communications Commission. By a vote of 5-0, the FCC formally agreed to open up the “white spaces” spectrum—the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels—for wireless broadband service for the public. This is a clear victory for Internet users and anyone who wants good wireless communications.”
Microsoft, meanwhile, issued a statement:
“Today’s vote ushers in a new era of wireless broadband innovation. Like other unlicensed facilities, which enabled popular technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth, white spaces will make possible new and creative solutions to a range of broadband connectivity challenges. For example, white-spaces radios can help rural communities to augment their broadband Internet access inexpensively. Today’s vote also makes possible new ways to connect people and devices to each other and to Internet-based services, helping boost American productivity. And it will create opportunities for American companies to remain at the forefront of technological innovation worldwide, helping to create jobs and economic growth.”
(3:25 p.m.: Added NAB comment)


  1. Are they talking about the all-digital channels we wil all use after Feb. 17, 2009, or about the current broadcast freqencies? I assume the former, otherwise this article would be irrelevant, but the article fails to make this clear. A surprising oversight on the part of the author of this piece.

  2. Phil K, there was no oversight on the part of the author.

    The actual broadcast frequencies of television stations remain completely unchanged with the digital transmission; all that changes is the method of transmitting the signal, from NTSC analog to ATSC digital.

    Now a better question will be what electronics companies will be willing to confuse customers with equipment that runs on a whole new frequency none of their computers run on when there is already customer confusion over the difference between 802.11b/802.11g and 802.11n devices in the marketplace.

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