Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Debate Over Whitespace

‘White space’…makes me thinks of an empty room painted blindingly white; a blank canvas ripe for all kinds of uses. The Wireless Innovation Alliance (WIA) would be pleased if this term conjured up these images for everyone. White space is used to describe the airwaves in between the channels (the static). The broadband spectrum used to transmit TV signals will all be white space when vacated after the February 2009 DTV transition. The WIA envisions a large area wireless broadband network that will act as a societal bridge, a “WiFi 2.0”.

It’s sold on WIA blog as a decisive point in history, “a promising new technology called TV white space that would help close [the technology] gap for all Americans, white and all people of color.” Basically, the plan is to provide low cost wireless broadband internet access across the country using this soon to be empty spectrum.

Google, a partner in the WIA, also hopes to realize their wireless phone platform Android’s broadband access, as well as corporate applications on these newly freed airwaves. They have filed a proposal with the FCC to allow the unlicensed use of this viable spectrum. Google must really think they can make some money on this project. They’ve agreed to provide at no cost reference designs, geo-databases, and tech support to corporate users of white space.

The FCC is not really concerned with much as far as licensing, as long as the handsets and other devices interacting wirelessly with the network don’t interfere with anything else, the folks at the Federal Communication Commission are kind of sticklers on this issue. Good thing, because wireless microphone using sports refs and Broadway actors, along with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), are upset by the proposition that their signal could be affected if the FCC allows this to happen.

FCC tests on WIA member Microsoft’s prototype device proved successful in implementing a signal detection technology using geo-positioning; the signal tester gives the all clear before it allows the user to connect, so as to not cause any interface with transmissions that could be taking place on the same channel, and FCC license holders get priority anyway. So Google’s asks what's the problem?

Despite Google’s and the WIA’s best efforts, the NAB has garnished much more congressional support for their rally against the abolishment of the licensing requirements for white space usage. Seems as if, the NAB is hurt, they had to pay for years. Jeez FCC, why should it be free now?

Google’s argument is that the economic and social gains are too great to ignore, and the spectrum would lie fallow and not be used at all. I agree, and want to hire Google’s soothsayer for a personal reading.

One of the FCC’s main reasons for freeing up the airways is to allow public services, like police departments, to use the spectrum; a municipality would have to absorb less cost in raising this network because most of the infrastructure is already in place, and with the addition of Google’s network building advancements they would serve to improve first responder's capabilities more quickly. All of which would further reduce the cost at the local level of building a network.

The technology will get faster and handle more traffic with time, but only if put in place, and used for a variety of applications. So please, FCC do us (the American public) a solid, and prove to us that the corporations don’t own our governmental organizations. If it doesn’t affect the ability to transmit, you must admit.