FCC To Start Testing 'WiFi On Steroids'

Almost three years after voting to allow companies to use "white spaces" for mobile broadband, the Federal Communications Commission announced today that it's ready to move ahead with trials.

Starting on Monday, the FCC will begin a 45-day test aimed at seeing whether white spaces -- or the vacant airwaves between TV channels -- can be used for broadband without interfering with TV broadcasts. Advocacy group Public Knowledge, long a supporter of using white spaces for broadband, cheered the news. "It's vitally important for our economy, for innovation and for consumers that development of devices built around white spaces go forward," the group said. "This trial is an important first step to a new era of communications and other technologies."

Internet companies and consumer advocates have said for years that using white spaces for mobile computing will vastly improve the availability of broadband in the U.S. The radio airwaves in that spectrum are powerful enough to transmit through walls and across large areas, which makes them conducive to broadband. For that reason, when the FCC approved the plan in 2008, then-chairman Kevin Martin said that it would lead to "WiFi on steroids."

But the FCC's vote on the plan drew controversy, with heated opposition by TV broadcasters, who said they were afraid that allowing the spectrum to be used for wireless broadband would interfere with television signals. Additionally, many Broadway theaters, musicians and others who were already using the spectrum for wireless microphones criticized the plan. The FCC's 2008 vote also sparked a lawsuit, but the case was put on hold for the FCC to conduct tests and finalize its plans.

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