Last Wednesday, the FCC issued an order that names nine companies as the joint administrators of a database that will govern the use of an unlicensed section of the broadcast spectrum known as “white space”. These are the frequencies between television channels in a given regional area. Not all channels are assigned in a given market, so those frequencies are available for other uses locally. The problem is that you don’t want these devices interfering with the television stations (and wireless microphones) that are licensed to use parts of the spectrum in these areas.
The FCC has been interested in freeing up access to these bits of radio spectrum for years, especially as a means of facilitating the development of wide-area wireless broadband services. The hope is that this approach can bring broadband Internet access to rural regions and other areas where building a traditional wired infrastructure is not cost-effective. And by making access to these frequencies unlicensed, the FCC intends to open the field to small companies that will provide more competition for the large telecommunications services.
The database will track which parts of the spectrum are available at different locations. For example, a bit more than a third of the TV spectrum is available as white space in San Francisco, while in other cities as much as 70% of the spectrum is not used. The only name that most consumers will recognize among the nine database managers is Google. The company has been active for years in trying to get the FCC to open up access to the unused portions of the broadcast spectrum, and has devised a variable power transmission approach that makes more efficient use of the available frequencies.
The database won’t be active for another month or two, but it will help manufacturers develop products and services that will extend wireless access to content and devices, which is likely to result in a whole new array of gadgets and services.