Report: FCC close to finalizing white space rules

Wall Street Journal reports the commission has been meeting with TV broadcasters, others to finally hammer out details for opening up unused spectrum for unlicensed use.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

The Federal Communications Commission is close to finalizing rules for the use of unlicensed white space spectrum, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper on Tuesday reported that top aides to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski have met with TV broadcasters and others in recent weeks to discuss how to get the spectrum freed for use by technology companies and wireless operators.

White space is unused spectrum that sits between TV channels. The 300MHz to 400MHz of unused spectrum is considered prime spectrum for offering wireless broadband services because it can travel long distances and penetrate through walls. The FCC unanimously agreed in November 2008 to open up this spectrum for unlicensed use. Even so, technical issues to allow device makers and service providers to use the spectrum still need to be worked out.

Several groups, including TV broadcasters, professional sports leagues, entertainers, and church organizations have opposed the use of this spectrum. And some TV broadcasters have sued, which has also stalled the roll-out of the new spectrum.

The talks the FCC is having currently should help hammer out the technical issues and solutions could be presented at the agencies September meeting, the Journal reported. It's important that these issues get worked out so that technology companies and service providers can get commercial products to market.

During a recent trip to Austin, Texas, FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker discussed the white space issue with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell, the Wall Street Journal said. And on a recent trip to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash., Chairman Genachowski was shown products that use white space spectrum.

Technology companies such as Google, Motorola, Microsoft, and Dell have lobbied the FCC for years to open this spectrum for unlicensed use. The hope is that the spectrum could be used to augment existing wireless services or eventually be used to create new wireless broadband services.

The FCC has made opening up new wireless spectrum a top priority. In its National Broadband Report presented to Congress earlier this year, the agency said that it recognized the need for more bandwidth to support the growth of new devices, like smartphones.

As part of the National Broadband Plan, the agency said it would free up 500MHz of new wireless spectrum within 10 years for licensed and unlicensed use. The plan recommends that 300MHz of that spectrum should become available within the next five years. White space spectrum is part of this plan. Earlier this year, the city of Wilmington, N.C., and the surrounding county of New Hanover were among the first communities to test wireless applications using TV white space technology.