FCC Approves White Spaces, 'WiFi On Steroids'

Kevin J. Martin of FCCIn a move expected to spur broadband growth, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to allow the unlicensed use of the white space spectrum.

"Opening the white spaces will allow for the creation of a WiFi on steroids," FCC chair Kevin Martin said in a statement issued Tuesday. "It has the potential to improve wireless broadband connectivity and inspire an ever-widening array of new Internet based products and services for consumers."

Some Web companies, including Google and Microsoft, backed the plan-- as did broadband access advocates. They say that allowing white spaces to be used for Internet access will encourage companies to create new wireless broadband networks because the radio airwaves are powerful enough to transmit through walls and across large areas.

But TV broadcasters and other users of the spectrum condemned the proposal, arguing that allowing unlicensed devices on vacant radio airwaves will cause interference with TV signals or wireless microphones.



The FCC said Tuesday that new devices on the white space spectrum will not interfere with existing users. "The rules represent a careful first step to permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces and include numerous safeguards to protect incumbent services against harmful interference," the agency said.

The agency said that it will require new devices to have geolocation and database access capabilities, or alternatively, spectrum-sensing capabilities, in order to prevent interference.

The FCC also said that current users of wireless microphones--including Broadway theaters and others that never obtained licenses --will be able to register their locations in a database. New devices with database capabilities will be able to communicate with the registry, which will tell the devices which portions of the radio airwaves can be used.

Backers of the plan cheered the FCC's decision. "Today's vote ushers in a new era of wireless broadband innovation," Microsoft said in a statement. "Like other unlicensed facilities, which enabled popular technologies such as WiFi and Bluetooth, white spaces will make possible new and creative solutions to a range of broadband connectivity challenges."

Opponents, including the National Association of Broadcasters, criticized the ruling. "While we appreciate the FCC's attempt to address significant issues raised by broadcasters and others, every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today's Commission vote," the group said in a statement.

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