California gets first commercial white-space high-speed Internet

Years after the FCC agreed to open up white-space spectrum for unlicensed use in the U.S., California's rural Gold Country tries out the first commercial version of the service.

Carlson's RuralConnect wireless access point uses white space to bring broadband to rural areas. Carlson

Believe it or not, there are still parts of the U.S. that don't have access to high-speed Internet. But that's looking to change with the onset of TV white-space broadband technology.

The first commercial application of this type of service in the U.S. is coming to a rural area of Northern California called El Dorado County, or Gold Country. Internet provider Cal.net is partnering with network equipment provider Carlson to bring this region's residents something more than dial-up.

"Over 59,000 residents in our rural service area have had little or no quality Internet access," Cal.net CTO Ken Garnett, who began investigating white space technology several years ago, said in a statement. "When I discovered Carlson, their White-Space network equipment was a quantum leap ahead of all other contenders. This new product allows us to serve a large contingent of these people."

White spaces are essentially unlicensed sections of the spectrum. What companies are now able to do is keep track of in-use TV broadcast frequencies so that wireless broadband devices can take advantage of that unlicensed space. TV frequencies have powerful signals that are able to travel over mountainous and forested terrain.

The FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use. Experts say there could be between 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum across the U.S. In 2010, the FCC approved new rules for using unlicensed white space, which included using databases to check for clear frequencies and ensure that devices do not interfere with existing broadcast TV license holders.

Several companies are working on building databases to make use of white space. Google began testing a new database in March . Spectrum Bridge and Telcordia have already completed their trials, and there are another 10 companies, including Microsoft , which are working on similar databases. Google also launched a trial program last month to use white space for providing wireless broadband in South African schools.

In Gold Country, the monthly service will cost users $54.95 per month with speeds of around 2 to 4 Mbps, according to Engadget, which first reported this story. Currently the service is only available in the vicinity of Swansboro, but Cal.net plans to extend its reach across the county in coming months.

"I'm finally able to keep tabs on my business from home," a local entrepreneur said in the statement. "For 20 years we've had no decent Internet service were we live. Now we have superior remote access to our office computers, and can finally enjoy peace of mind while saving us many hours of driving."

About the author

Dara Kerr is a staff writer for CNET focused on the sharing economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado where she developed an affinity for collecting fool's gold and spirit animals.

 

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