February 21, 2006 11:16 AM PST

Bills would boost unlicensed Wi-Fi

Wireless Internet service providers would be allowed to operate freely on new chunks of unused TV spectrum, according to two new bills in the U.S. Senate.

A pair of similar measures introduced Friday would give wireless device manufacturers the green light to develop products for unlicensed use on the broadband airwaves' "white spaces"--that is, empty, unused channels in the broadcast TV bands.

Companies interested in deploying Wi-Fi networks covet the bands of spectrum on which broadcast television currently resides because of its inherent scientific properties. Signals at that frequency travel straighter and farther. Consumer advocates say using the spectrum would enable cheaper and easier set-up--and thus more widespread access for rural and low-income areas.

That's one of the major reasons high-tech companies also have been clamoring for bumping broadcasters off the analog spectrum entirely. Congress has already mandated that movement--and the nation's transition to all-digital TV broadcasts--must happen by February 2009.

The New America Foundation, an independent think tank that supports freeing up the white space for wireless deployment, estimates that 40 percent to 80 percent of the TV spectrum lies vacant in rural areas and that major metropolises host a fair share of empty spectrum as well.

That organization joined consumer advocates in applauding the bills' introduction. "Opening the white spaces for new and innovative technologies is an essential step toward bridging the digital divide, bringing 21st century telecommunications to rural areas and providing affordable access to all Americans," advocacy groups Consumers Union and Free Press wrote in a letter to the bills' sponsors.

The Federal Communications Commission has already been considering making rules (click here for PDF) to allow unlicensed use of the white space since 2004. But that proceeding has stalled, in part because of concerns expressed by commissioners over potential interference from new devices operating on the spectrum.

"We must be able and ready to conduct independent harmful-interference tests, and to act decisively when harmful interference has occurred," Commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement at the time. Other commissioners seemed inclined simply to wait until the digital-television transition is complete.

The politically powerful National Association of Broadcasters has voiced resistance to the idea for similar reasons, arguing that the devices would muddle the reception of over-the-air TV stations. The Consumer Electronics Association said in comments to the FCC last year that its member companies could not reach a consensus as to whether new devices could be introduced to the spectrum without posing interference risks to existing services.

Both new bills would instruct the FCC to move more quickly on concluding those rulemaking procedures. The agency would have to come up with technical rules and guidelines for those operating on the unlicensed spectrum, with an eye toward preventing "harmful interference" from the new devices.

But they differ slightly in their approaches. The American Broadband for Communities Act offered by Sen. Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, would involve rewriting telecommunications law to free up only certain portions of the unused spectrum for wireless deployment.

Virginia Republican George Allen's two-page Wireless Innovation Act of 2006, co-sponsored by Democrats John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, and by Republican John Sununu, appears to call for unlicensed wireless activities on any unused piece of the analog TV band.

"At a time when the U.S. is lagging behind much of the world in broadband penetration--and more than 60 percent of the country does not subscribe to broadband service primarily because it is either unavailable or unaffordable--our legislation would put this country one step closer to closing the economic digital divide and achieving ubiquitous broadband Internet access throughout America," Allen said in a statement.

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3 comments

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I agree
I agree, why not use a unused piece of the analog TV band

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.otherthingsnow.blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.otherthingsnow.blogspot.com</a>
Posted by SqlserverCode (165 comments )
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it must be done
This would be a great first step to adding the proliferation of "broadband" amongst all people and close some of the internet have and have nots.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
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Still Not sure what this means
What is meant by "Unused TV Spectrum" and "White Spaces". Does this apply to all the 700MHz spectrum the FCC has set aside to be freed up in Feb 2009 and is considering to auction in 2008?
Or is this just todays existing Spectrum presently sitting idle or not being used by Broadcasters? Big difference here that is not clear in this report.
It sounds like the latter in that they will be requiring manufacturers to develop radios to monitor for and adjust for interference with the broadcasters. This would not be needed when the Broadcasters move off the spectrum and free it up to Licensed players-Auction=big $$$$ for Feds
If this is the case the big national carriers looking for the big Licensed Spectrum being freed up in 2009 are trying to sideline (lobying the Senate) the smaller carriers/service providers wanting Unlicensed spectrum to compete with the big national companies coming after their local markets.
Here are the commenst from article that are nebulous:
"...the green light to develop products for unlicensed use on the broadband airwaves' "white spaces"--that is, empty, unused channels in the broadcast TV bands.

"...rewriting telecommunications law to free up only certain portions of the unused spectrum for wireless deployment. Sen Ted Stevens

"...appears to call for unlicensed wireless activities on any unused piece of the analog TV band." Senator George Allen sponsored act


Would like to hear something on what exactly this means.

Jacomo
Posted by jacomo (115 comments )
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