RealTime IT News

Senators Push White Space Legislation

Four U.S. senators want to reserve the empty spaces between broadcast channels for unlicensed wireless broadband providers, launching a third high-speed Internet competitor to cable companies and the incumbent Bells.

The Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (WINN Act) seeks to exploit the small swaths of spectrum that broadcasters maintain as interference buffers.

Those spaces, known as "white channels" or "white spaces," are ideal for wireless broadband because the radio signals penetrate walls and other objects.

"Providing a way to encourage the widespread adoption of broadband Internet access is vital to helping keep pace with the new global economy," bill sponsor George Allen (R-Va.) said in a statement.

Allen's co-sponsors include Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.), John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The four lawmakers serve on the Senate Commerce and Science Committee, which has jurisdiction over the legislation.

The WINN Act specifically requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to permit unlicensed use of unassigned broadcast spectrum between 54MHz and 698 MHz within 180 days of enactment.

Although broadcasters are allocated hundreds of megahertz of spectrum in every U.S. television market, significant chunks of the spectrum are unused. In Boston and Chicago, for instance, almost 50 MHz is fallow.

The FCC is already studying the issue of using the spectrum for unlicensed use, contending that broadcasters' original fears of interference are unjustified in a technological age that includes "smart radio" transmitters and receivers. The FCC proposal was introduced in May 2004.

In any event, the broadcasters are abandoning the entire space in 2009 as the last step in setting the stage to complete the country's digital television (DTV) transition.

An Allen spokesman declined to comment on the ongoing FCC proposal. The FCC did not return calls asking for comment on the legislation.

"Instead of just talking about it, we need to make affordable broadband a reality everywhere," Kerry said. "Making this technology available in all corners of our country is good for our families, demonstrates the spirit of American innovation and promotes our success in the global economy."

Sununu said the broadcast white spaces represent an untapped opportunity for the wireless community.

"While we may be able to guess at some of the products that might develop because of this bill, the real benefits will probably derive from those that we can't imagine today," said Sununu.

"Thankfully, advances in technology have eliminated any real claims of harmful interference by existing licensees in this spectrum band."

Allen noted more than 60 percent of Americans do not have a broadband connection because it is either unavailable or too expensive.

"At a time when the U.S. is lagging behind much of the world in broadband penetration ... our legislation would put this country one step closer to closing the economic digital divide and achieving ubiquitous broadband Internet access throughout America," he said.