Greeting the World’s First White Spaces Network

WASHINGTON — A proud congressman presided this morning over the public unveiling of the first high-speed broadband network to run on TV white spaces, the slivers of spectrum that sit between television stations.

“You are seeing today the first signal that is generated from white spaces I’m told anywhere in the world,” said Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. “I hope whoever told me that was right.”

Boucher was speaking to a small room full of technology and policy wonks here on Capitol Hill, but also to a group of residents of Claudville, Va., the most rural area of his very rural district, who had assembled in the Trinity Christian School and were watching via a video link that ran on the white spaces network.

Previously, high-speed Internet service was not available in Claudville.

Work on the white spaces network began in July, when the Federal Communications Commission granted a license to a company called Spectrum Bridge to begin testing the experimental link-up.

Last November, the FCC approved the use of white spaces for new broadband networks over the vigorous objection of broadcasters, who warned that the data transmissions would interfere with television signals.

The FCC ordered the creation of a national database to keep track of the occupied and vacant channels in each region of the country. Devices that would run on white space spectrum would have to connect with that database to ensure they did not interfere with a local television channel.

For the Claudville network, the FCC granted an 18-month experimental license. The network will serve as a testbed to discover the cost and reliability of the network, as well as to study the interference issues.

“It is our hope from this demonstration that we can prove definitely that white spaces are a good solution for last-mile broadband service,” Boucher said.

Spectrum Bridge, based in Florida, set up a router in Claudville to ride on the fiber connection to a computer center set up by TDF, a Washington venture capital firm. The router uses white space spectrum to propagate signals to the Trinity Christian School, the Claudville Café and a local fish hatchery.

Spectrum Bridge maintains a database of occupied spectrum and has developed a real-time switching technology to ensure that mobile white spaces devices don’t interfere with television broadcasts.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), two firms that advocated for opening up white spaces, donated computers and software to the Claudville community.

White spaces proponents have argued that the strong propagation characteristics of the spectrum, both for the strength of signal and the distance it can travel, make it ideal for connecting both rural and low-income urban areas of the country. The white spaces spectrum in the Claudville network carries a signal about 1.5 miles, many times farther than a Wi-Fi connection can reach.

“It really extends the Internet backbones,” said Becca Gould, Dell’s vice president of government affairs. “Over time networks like these … hold the promise of being the lowest-cost last-mile broadband service for rural areas.”

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