Thursday, October 23, 2008

Down to the wire on white spaces

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

There's more than one important vote going on this Election Day. On November 4, as Americans cast their ballots for President of the United States, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to be voting on rules governing "white spaces" -- the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels.

Just as Wi-Fi sparked a revolution in the way we connect to the web, freeing the "white space" airwaves could help unleash a new wave of technological innovation, create jobs, and boost our economy. But it can happen only if the FCC moves forward with rules that make the best possible use of this spectrum.

Last week, after many months of thorough testing, the Commission's engineers announced their conclusion that white spaces devices could operate without interfering with TV broadcasts or wireless microphone signals. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pledged his support for opening "white space" spectrum, and announced that the Commission would vote on the issue on November 4.

Unfortunately, last Friday the broadcasting lobby filed an emergency request to stop the vote from happening. This comes despite more than four years of study, months of extensive lab and field testing by the FCC, and tens of thousands of pages of formal record material -- during which the broadcasters' concerns were fully considered. As we understand it, the draft order carefully and appropriately addresses all legitimate concerns about interference, and the resulting draft rules are, if anything, overly conservative. Nonetheless, the proposed framework overall appears to be sound, and we strongly support it.

While the science should speak for itself, that won't stop the broadcasting lobby from trying to use stalling tactics to derail the technology before the rules of the road are even written. These are the same folks who over the years have sought to block one innovative technology after another, from cable TV to VCRs to satellite TV and radio to low power FM to TiVOs.

The enormous promise of white spaces is simply too great to get bogged down now in politics. We're less than two weeks away from a vote that could transform the way we connect to the Internet.

The time for study and talk is over. The time for action has arrived. But we need your help -- before November 4th.

Two months ago we launched "Free the Airwaves" with a simple message: Americans want better access to broadband, and they see the potential of white spaces to make it happen. If you care about the future of technological innovation, please sign our petition to the FCC at, and ask your friends to do the same.


Paul said...

"to derail the technology before the rules of the road are even written."

Incompatible metaphors :-)

Adam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adam said...

As a sound technician I work with wireless microphones all the time. Even without the deregulation clean bandwidth is limited.

After this regulation passes, my experience tells me that there is no conceivable way for my mics operate cleanly.

Professional wireless microphones are very expensive often over a thousand dollars for a single microphone. There are easily millions of dollars worth of audio equipment in America that uses this air space.

What will become of all this equipment once this regulation passes? Assuming new technology will be able to provide clean audio, how much will it cost to switch? Will the old gear be worth anything?

My point is that after this regulation a lot of concert production companies will have start investing lots of money into new technology, with out being able sell their old stuff for any value.

Shouldn't the FCC, or the businesses which hope to operate in this bandwidth subsidize the development and transition of the new technology from the old?

Jim McCauley said...

I posted a version of this on the Denver Metro AVS Forum, but it also seems appropriate here.

Could broadcast digital television fail? And if it did, would that be a bad thing?

Here's the deal: Cable and satellite penetration is such that only something like 20% of Americans get their televised entertainment from terrestrial broadcast. Cable and satellite providers won't require their viewers to to buy new sets, and the value proposition of HD is questionable, at least at this point.

OTA viewers will probably depend in large part on coupon-eligible set top boxes (CECBs) for reception for some time (I know I will), so it's looking like the retail market for new sets will be pretty thin, especially with a recession on. So what's the motivation for buying a digital set at all? Many viewers may be so pleased by the picture quality out of their CECBs that they will regard a new set as unnecessary for years -- assuming that they can get reception under the new regime.

If reception is spotty, things get squirrely. That population of OTA viewers may shrink dramatically after the February changeover if reception is as problematic as indicated in the recent test, because a lot of them will go to cable or satelite.

If the small population of current viewers begin to desert OTA in earnest, what economic motivation is there for broadcasters to spend on broadcasting? They might be motivated to maintain a broadcast presence only to oblige cable and satellite vendors to keep them on due to the must-carry rule. If they could convince those carriers to keep them on cable and satellite without a broadcast presence, and if the FCC allowed it, why should they remain on the air?

The whitespace initiative ( is interesting in this respect. The idea is to deploy unused bandwidth in highband VHF and/or UHF TV for use in constructing a stupendous (and largely ad-hoc) wireless Internet infrastructure, implemented as a mesh network. If broadcast TV has a lower net market value than such a network, why should it be subsidized -- especially when those video services might be delivered with higher economic efficiency over a wireless broadband mesh?

Jim McCauley

alaskaemwave said...

Let me know if I can help. This is serious, and would not be at no charge. I own TV stations on UHF and VHF in Anchorage Alaska, and believe freeing unused spectrum
would release vast potential, and believe it can be done without interference. I also believe existing proposals are flawed.

What I can provide is a field test bed for whatever technology you would like to try on channels where the nearest licensed co or 1st adjacent station is beyond coordination radius. And maybe some helpful lobbying.

You can reach me at