FCC supports conditional use of ‘white spaces’

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said last week that he will support allowing conditional unlicensed use of the so-called “white spaces” television spectrum.

During a press conference, Martin said that he was proposing to let carriers and other vendors deploy devices in white space spectrum which operates unlicensed at powers of 100 milliwatts. His proposal would also permit use of white space on channels adjacent to existing television stations at powers of up to 40 milliwatts. The FCC is planning to officially vote on whether to allow unlicensed white space use during its Nov. 4 meeting.

White spaces are largely unused television spectrum long targeted by big tech firms.

Additionally, Martin said that all devices operating on the spectrum would have to have sensing capabilities that would automatically shut the device down if it comes into interference with broadcast spectrum, as well as access to a geo-location database that tracks mobile devices by locating them through their specific IP address, media-access-control address, radio-frequency identification or other location-based information.

Once the database has a fix on the device’s location, it can select the optimal white-space spectrum for the device and even switch the device to a different spectrum once it moves to a different location.

Last year, a coalition of technology vendors, consumers groups and think tanks mounted a campaign to move the FCC to allow the use of white spaces.

The FCC and several wireless carriers and device manufacturers spent the summer testing devices that operate on television “white spaces,” or pieces of unlicensed spectrum currently unused by television stations on the VHF and UHF frequency bands. Internet companies, such as Google, and device manufacturers, such as Motorola, have been pushing for the FCC to open up the spectrum for unlicensed use, arguing it would help bring mobile broadband to under-served regions and would help close the so-called “digital divide” between many urban and rural areas in the United States.

The campaign for unlicensed white space use has met staunch opposition from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which doesn’t want mobile Internet devices operating on unlicensed spectrum clashing with broadcasts on nearby frequencies. Past FCC tests on white-space devices have lent credence to the broadcasters’ concerns, because some devices were found to interfere with other broadcasts and were unable to detect consistently or accurately the presence of other TV or wireless microphone signals.

Advocates of unlicensed white space use were quick to praise Martin’s remarks today, saying that approving use of devices on white spaces would broaden the reach of Internet access throughout the United States.

“Nearly every market in the United States has empty white spaces,” said Ben Scott, the policy director of the Free Press. “In some communities, more than three-quarters of the broadcast spectrum is unused. Unlicensed devices make efficient use of the airwaves because they’re low-power and smart enough to detect and avoid other broadcasters and services.”

Jake Scott, a spokesman for the Wireless Innovation Alliance, echoed Ben Scott’s remarks and said that he expected the FCC’s final report to validate “the feasibility and safety of white spaces technology.”

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