Internet coming to white space near you
FCC approves use of TV white space for broadband Internet access
- By William Jackson
- Nov 05, 2008
Wireless service providers will be able to take advantage of the
locally unused television RF spectrum known as white space for
high-speed Internet access under widely anticipated rules adopted
yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission.
'The rules will allow for the use of these new and
innovative types of unlicensed devices in the unused spectrum to
provide broadband data and other services for consumers and
businesses,' the commission said in announcing the decision.
The decision is part of the reallocation of the radio spectrum in
which television broadcasters will be moved to new bands in
February and required to use digital signals. Although the bands
are allocated to television broadcasters, not all channels are used
in all markets.
Although television broadcasters are not using the white space,
it is not vacant. That spectrum now is used by the professional
audio industry, which uses it for wireless microphones in musical
and theatrical performances and for sporting events. A coalition of
Nashville-based music interests told the FCC that crowding more
devices into the limited space being left by the DTV transition
could be a 'catastrophe' for live music venues.
The commission said it has taken the concerns of current users
into account. 'The rules represent a careful first step to
permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces
and include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services
against harmful interference,' the FCC said.
Service providers and consumer equipment manufacturers greeted
the decision as a victory for consumers and for U.S. broadband
'By allowing the use of TV white space, the FCC is
advancing access to broadband services, especially in rural areas
where broadband is more limited,' radio manufacturer Motorola
Inc. said in a statement.
'The FCC's decision boosts America's high tech
sector and promises to stimulate the investment and innovation
needed to accelerate broadband deployment, which is critical to
near-term economic growth and long-term national
competitiveness,' the Technology CEO Council said in a
Although devices using white space spectrum will be unlicensed,
they will have to be approved by the FCC and be certified in its
laboratory. The devices must include a geolocation capability and
be able to access over the Internet a database of incumbent
services that will tell the device what portions of the spectrum
already are in use in that area and what portions it may use.
Locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting
venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in
the database to protect their channels. The new devices also will
be required to 'listen' to the airwaves with spectrum
sensing technology to detect wireless microphones and avoid their
The FCC will permit certification of devices without geolocation
and database access, but their spectrum sensing capabilities will
have to undergo a more rigorous approval process.
'The Commission will closely oversee and monitor the
introduction of TV white space devices,' the commission said
in announcing the rules, and, 'will act promptly to remove
from the market any equipment found to be causing harmful
interference and will require the responsible parties to take
appropriate actions to remedy any interference that may
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin said the commission had been
cautious and did extraordinary laboratory testing to ensure that
incumbent users would be protected before adopting the new
'For months, both proponents and opponents of opening the
white spaces participated in laboratory and field testing conducted
by our engineers,' Martin said. 'Opening the white
spaces will allow for the creation of a WiFi on steroids. I fully
expect that everything from enhanced home broadband networks, to
intelligent peer-to-peer devices, and even small communications
networks will come into being in TV 'white
Although approving the new rules, FCC Commissioner Deborah
Taylor Tate expressed some reservations about possible
'The order is not perfect,' she wrote in a partial
dissent of the order. 'It precludes licensed services and
lacks needed language regarding a specific and expedited complaint
process for broadcasters, cable providers, wireless microphones and
individual users in the case of interference. Nonetheless, the
order ultimately may help promote the innovation and investment in
advanced services that consumers have come to expect from the
communications and technology sector.'
Tate praised the work of the FCC 's Office of Engineering
and Technology to ensure that technical safeguards against
interference would work. Power levels are restricted to 40
milliwatts, much less than that authorized for wireless
microphones. There is the possibility that devices used in the home
could create interference in home networks, but 'the
commission does not generally focus on interference that users
cause to themselves,' she wrote.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.