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Open spectrum victory in the U.S.

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
8th November 2008


This has been one of the great fights for a open p2p infrastructure: to open up the spectrum of so-called ‘white spaces‘, (i.e. the unused airwaves between broadcast TV channels) for public use as wireless broadband infrastructure.

It appears that a major battle has been won through a recent decision of the communication’s regulator FCC, but according to the commentary below, it will take determined action by the new administration to see it through against rearguard legal challenges by incumbent interests.

First, commentary of the announcement by Tom Evslin:

The Federal Communications Commission has just voted to open up the so called TV Whitespaces for UNLICENSED use. This is incredibly good news for rural America in particular but actually for all of America. It’s not as important as the election the rest of us in the US voted in today – but this action is a very, very big deal.

Just a few of the benefits:

* Within a year there could be new, cheap radios and commercial services that make mobile broadband available with greater bandwidth than cable offers today AND at lower prices.
* Mobile phones on these frequencies will be much cheaper to use AND will have much better data capability than they have today.
* Since the US is the first country to make so much desirable spectrum available for open unlicensed use, the door is open for a wave of innovation here and the invention of products and services which will eventually be used around the world.
* Much of the concerns many of us have had about tollgates on the Internet and an end to open interconnection will evaporate since the barrier to providing Internet access will be much lower and the power of the existing cable-telco duopoly diluted.

This is very, very good spectrum. That’s why it’s been used for TV. It goes through walls and leaves; it goes long distances.

Unfortunately, those opposed to opening up this spectrum – established broadcasters who fear the competition that a much more powerful Internet will bring and telcos who would like to preserve their domination of Internet access and mobile service – have threatened legal action to slow this innovation and competitive threat.

Making sure we all get the benefits of this FCC decision will be an early task for the new administration. It won’t be an easy one but it’s important and it’s a real test of willingness to stand up to special interests who want to monopolize public assets like the airwaves.”

Jeff Jarvis concurs:

This is hugely important. It could provide the means to connect more of America. It could provide the competition that assures us both reasonable prices for access and open and unfettered access (for, in a competitive marketplace, the provider that limits our use will be the provider that loses). This will bring more innovation. It will lead to new businesses. It will help educate people. It’s a big deal.

More comment by Jeff Jarvis here.

The FCC press release is here.

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One Response to “Open spectrum victory in the U.S.”

  1. Michel Bauwens Says:

    This interesting summary of the possibilities of open spectrum appeared in business week, here at
    www.businessweek.com/technology/content/nov2008/tc2008115_197440.htm?l

    ” The new airwaves, known as white spaces, could be used to create wireless hot spots akin to those created by Wi-Fi technology that let users communicate wirelessly within homes and throughout neighborhoods. But unlike Wi-Fi zones, these airwaves will enable faster downloads of large data files, such as video clips and feature-length films, over larger distances and at a lower cost. In a blog, Google co-founder Larry Page compared the technology to “Wi-Fi on steroids,” adding: “I’ve always thought that there are a lot of really incredible things that engineers and entrepreneurs can do with this spectrum.”

    The spectrum’s ability to transmit data and calls at long distances and through walls would allow cheap community broadband networks to cover city neighborhoods and even entire towns, bypassing and creating added competition with traditional providers of telecommunication services, such as Comcast (CMCSA), Verizon Communications (VZ), and AT&T (T). Motorola expects to cover 15 square miles with one access point using this spectrum and WiMax-like technology, which is currently used only on licensed spectrum. The setup would allow a new breed of carrier to rise up and provide wireless broadband in rural areas without having to dole out millions of dollars on spectrum. Motorola hopes to have new gear that works in white spaces within a year. “

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