White Spaces: Turning Television Static into Internet Gold

By August 18, 2008

Google is lobbying the FCC to open up “white spaces” – the space between channels on broadcast TV – calling them “the building blocks for Wi-Fi 2.0” or, more evocatively, “Wi-Fi on steroids.” White spaces are spaces used to separate private TV channels; they are the static we (or our parents) used to see between stations when tuning on UHF TVs. Largely unused after television switches to digital next February, they will offer “the possibility of affordable, ubiquitous, high-speed Internet connections to all Americans, anywhere, at any


“Three-fourths of the white spaces are completely unused today,” says Google’s Free the Airwaves lobbying campaign, launched Monday. The campaign aims at allowing unlicensed use of the white spaces, which would allow broader, faster Wi-Fi access at better prices, offer the internet to as-yet-inaccessible rural areas, and also provide access to lower-income areas. The proposed spectrum is especially good at high-speed, long distance travel and penetrating walls inside buildings.

Joining Google in this initiative are Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Motorola, Microsoft, and Philips Electronics, among others. Legislation has been introduced into the House and Senate to free up white spaces.

The measure is opposed by phone companies and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which is backed by network TV companies, cable operators and national sports leagues.

White spaces is “one of the crucial issues of our economic future and of our information future,” says Columbia law professor Tim Wu, author of “Who Controls the Internet?”

“White spaces is a reform designed to break the bottleneck in spectrum and to make the airwaves available for anyone to use and to make them come to consumers at a much cheaper price than what you see today.”

An FCC ruling on white spaces could come as early as next month

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