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
“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
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
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.