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FCC Opens “White Space”

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 9:00 AM on November 5, 2008

As we had hoped, the FCC has approved opening the “white space” that was being reserved in the TV broadcast spectrum for the last fifty years. It has been a four-year process, and has finally come to the conclusion it should have all along.

This, despite protests from every broadcast entity in the country. So much for big business having all the say. Under the FCC’s plan, white space spectrum will be unlicensed and free — like Wi-Fi — to anybody who wants to use it. In some markets, there’s enough white space to fill a half dozen TV channels.

They have put in place safeguards that should allay any broadcasting fears that currently exist. “Safe zones” where the white space cannot be used, like around entertainment venues or near broadcast points for traditional television broadcasters. Other entities can ask for safe zone treatment from the FCC.

The opening of this broadcast space bodes well for innovation. Right now, devices to use the space are not available, but I expect to see rapid development in this area. Now, if we can just keep big business’ hands off the space, we might get some cost-effective and use-effective growth in the area of wi-fi communications!

One Comment

  1. From Mike Staples at 10:09 am on November 6, 2008

    I’m a career broadcast engineer, and what I am about to say comes from 35 years of dealing with interference issues, not out of any provincial turf-defending viewpoint. My job is to make things work, not to prevent them from working.

    Identifying sources of interference and resolving the problems is usually a difficult task at best. The concept that exists in most peoples’ minds of riding around with a magical direction-finding device, quickly locating the interfering device and having it shut off is really a fantasy. In reality, most interference is hard to pinpoint (even when from a stationary source) and having it shut off is fraught with legal and practical difficulties.

    The problem with unlicensed white space devices is – not being glib – that they are unlicensed. That means that in the event of interference problems, there is little or nothing that can (or will) be done by the FCC. In the unlikely event that the source of interference is located – *very* difficult at best, even supposing the FCC would attempt it – there isn’t much that can be done. No license to revoke, and no way to prevent the user from obtaining another device even if their is confiscated (extremely unlikely), so what does that leave, sending them to bed early?

    The regulatory debacle that was CB radio, and the present-day problems with marine emergency radio services being disrupted by truck drivers using marine transceivers as long-range CB’s are only two examples of the FCC’s lack of ability or desire to conduct serious interference enforcement, so it’s hard to see white space devices being any more carefully overseen.

    The “safe zone” idea is at best naive; users of white space devices are likely to take them wherever they wish, totally disregarding the “safe zones” – supposing they even know where the “safe zones” are in the first place.

    Please understand that I’m not saying white space devices can’t or shouldn’t exist; I see them as a huge boon, but simply believe that in its rush to bring this service into being, the FCC has failed to correctly assess the real-world implications and put in place measures that will assure peaceful coexistence between the new devices and those already in service.