Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Today: TV static. Tomorrow: broadband.

Remember how, before cable and satellite TV became ubiquitous in our homes, we would have to turn the VHF dial on our old televisions to watch local channels? NBC might have been on channel 3, CBS on 10, and ABC on 17. And between those channels...was static.

Today, the spaces between those channels remain largely unused. But now a consensus is growing that those portions of TV spectrum -- known as "white spaces" -- could be used to expand Internet access through low power personal devices, akin to Wi-Fi. Best of all, new spectrum sensing technologies can ensure that this spectrum could be used for mobile broadband service without interfering one bit with television signals. Which means that not only would more Americans be able to reach the Internet, but also that I'll still be able to watch The Colbert Report (at least once the Hollywood writers' strike is settled).

Over the past few months, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the House (by Reps. Jay Inslee and Nathan Deal) and Senate (by Sens. John Kerry and Gordon Smith) to open up this spectrum. We support these bills and thank their sponsors. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission is currently evaluating the technology concepts behind this issue. As part of that process, we met last week with some of the FCC's engineers and presented encouraging test results based on ongoing trials of wireless technologies.

Today, Google joined a broad-based coalition of technology companies, public interest and consumer groups, civil rights organizations, think tanks, and higher education groups to launch the Wireless Innovation Alliance, a new group to promote the numerous benefits that the "white spaces" can bring to consumers. The members of the coalition have already helped secure significant political support for our goals from Members of Congress, and we will be working over the next several months to educate more policymakers about the promise of white spaces. And while some have sought recently to politicize this process, we think the FCC should be allowed to conduct its analysis free of political considerations.

Between today's TV channels lies the opportunity for more Americans to enjoy the Internet's rich resources. We'll be working hard to make sure this debate is marked by more clarity, and less static.


mitchipd said...

I thought I'd cross-post this comment I posted on the Open Left blog (

I'm glad to see the formation of the Wireless Innovation Alliance and its support from some in Congress.

I've been arguing for a long time that the white space is a potential game-changer in the battle over the future of Internet connectivity in this country. Though I have no idea what Google execs are thinking, if I was advising them I'd suggest bidding to win on the "open access" 700 MHz spectrum and working with vendors to design network and end-user devices that can handle that spectrum and the white space (they're both in the broadcast band, but the white space is at lower frequencies).

I'd also suggest working with companies like Meraki and FON (I think Google's already invested in one or both) to adapt their "community-mesh" network devices and business models to these spectrum bands.

There's a whole lot of white space spectrum potentially available. If the FCC frees it up, and its combined with innovative business models (e.g., by Google, Meraki, FON and others), the possibility exists to create a new Internet access infrastructure that's high-speed, mobile, open-access and that has a very low cost structure in terms of expanding availability and usage fees. In key ways it would represent a fundamental alternative to existing wired and wireless telecom models, which would mean that citizens would get to choose which model they prefer.

I call that healthy competition. And it could help us eventually achieve healthy democracy and healthy public policy.

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