Saturday, September 13, 2008

Free the Airwaves

Since Google's announcement of the Free the Airwaves campaign, there has been renewed interest in wireless broadband, municipal wi-fi, white spaces -- all long-standing efforts to bring more Internet to more people by making Internet access available in the airwaves, instead of through underground wires. Faster, cheaper wireless Internet access is an exciting prospect with near-universal benefits to the American public -- but for the moment, its growth rests in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Within the next few months, the FCC is expected to decide the fate of cutting-edge wireless access through a proceeding titled "Unlicensed Operation in the TV Broadcast Bands". Ideally, the FCC will permit new technologies to take advantage of unused "white space" spectrum to send and receive data wirelessly. Allowing open, unlicensed use could pave the way for faster, cheaper wireless broadband -- leading to more ISP choices for consumers and a source of continued pressure for ISPs to maintain net neutrality.

Despite the obvious benefits to the public, the television industry and other broadcasting industries are fighting to keep the white spaces locked down. They claim that the new devices might interfere with the spectrum currently used for TV channels. While the FCC Office of Engineering Technology has been testing devices that dodge the spectrum used by TV channels, their findings are likely to avoid advising the commission to decide one way or another.

The public must be heard also -- don't let the massive TV broadcasting lobby kill this opportunity.

Tell the FCC to support innovation and the Internet by opening up the unused parts of the TV spectrum.