Free Marketers Want to Free TV White Spaces for Broadband

Conservatives, fiscal and otherwise, want the FCC to be liberal with the so-called TV white spaces (TVWS).

Groups including the American Conservative Union, Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Institute for Liberty, and Let Freedom Ring joined in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the other commissioners asking him to "act soon" on the "right" technical rules. 

They say freeing up more spectrum between TV channels for broadband use is key to closing the digital divide, particularly in rural areas, suggesting the FCC should make sure to take care of the fly-over states as well as their coastal counterparts.

The FCC made room for more unlicensed in auctioning broadcast spectrum for licensed broadband use in the incentive auction.

"This can happen if the FCC adopts appropriate technical rules and makes the necessary spectrum available for the use of white spaces for broadband," they told the commission.

Broadcasters have cautioned the FCC not to race toward white space use if it means running roughshod over—as in interfering with—the licensed users providing local news and emergency information in the band. 

Related: Groups Seeks More White Spaces Power, Tower Heights

The National Association of Broadcasters is concerned that those designated to administer databases that sense when channels are vacant and can be used by unlicensed devices need more vetting before the latest white spaces initiative is ready for primetime. 

But the groups suggest there is a need for speed: "Along with shrinking the rural broadband divide, TVWS can help promote competition in the technology sector, providing consumers with more choice and a reliable way to access the internet. We urge the FCC to act soon," they said.

The letter comes the same week that Microsoft is planning a new announcement on its Airband initiative to use TV white spaces to help close that rural divide. It has been a big driver of the push for using white spaces for unlicensed wireless. 

Broadcasters have countered that had it wanted broadcast spectrum, it could have bid for it in the spectrum auction.

The groups were echoing the sentiments of a pair of Republican senators—Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)—who last week asked the FCC to resolve interference issues with TVWS use by unlicensed devices, come up with final guidance, and allow for the expansion of TVWS use, also citing the need to close the rural broadband divide, which is one of chairman Pai's signature issues.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.