FCC Approves White Space Device Rules

It’s hard to say if this is good news or bad; I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it works out …

White Space broadband would use unlicensed and partially vacated spectrum created by the shift to digital television to create a new broadband delivery system. As expected, the FCC today voted to approve rules governing devices that use these white spaces, issuing a press release (pdf) stating these rules would require that white space devices consult a frequently-updated geolocation database to avoid interference with nearby TV broadcasts or wireless microphone transmissions. Says the FCC:

The Commission is also taking steps to ensure that incumbent services are protected from interference from the use of white spaces in various ways. In particular, today’s Order reserves two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones and other low power auxiliary service devices in all areas of the country. It also maintains a reasonable separation distance between TV White Space device and wireless microphone usage permitted to be registered in the database.

The rules appear to be a fairly decent compromise between the companies that have been bickering over this technology for years; namely Google, Microsoft, Dell and HP on one side — and broadcasters on the other. FCC boss Julius Genachowski issued a statement (pdf) stating that using this new unlicensed spectrum would create a “powerful platform for innovation.”

Whether this technology can be robust enough and evolve to provide additional competitive options isn’t clear, and it will initially be used as a longer-range Wi-Fi alternative. Google, for example, has been testing White Space connectivity at an Ohio hospital using an experimental license granted by the FCC.

In his own statement (pdf), Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell insisted the availability of white spaces technology “provides consumers a competitive alternative to existing broadband providers,” and “an additional check against potential anti-competitive mischief.” McDowell took things one step further in a speech, insisting the FCC could now take network neutrality protections and competition off their to do list.
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