Microsoft Pushes for TV White Spaces

Adopting a "CAN" do attitude, computer companies, edge providers and others have banded together to push Washington to let them use the so-called TV white spaces to close the rural digital divide.

Microsoft, which has long eagerly eyed the low-band TV spectrum, has joined with ACT: The App Association and various rural and education groups to form the Connect Americans Now (CAN) coalition.

That comes as full-power broadcasters are looking for more of that broadcast spectrum to simulcast new ATSC 3.0 next generation signals and low powers and translators displaced in the post incentive auction repack are looking for new spectrum homes, so there is plenty of competing interest in that low-band TV spectrum.

"Join our fight to bring broadband to all rural Americans," the coalition, billed as "a Microsoft supported community of concerned citizens, local organizations, rural advocates, and leading innovators," tells would-be supporters on a slick new site. "tell Washington to take action to bridge the digital divide now!"

It argues that closing the digital divide, which is an FCC priority, requires insuring there is enough unlicensed low-band spectrum in each market to ensure connectivity.

National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith told a C-SPAN audience two weeks ago that it made no sense to push forward with opening up more TV spectrum to unlicensed use before the FCC determined how much would be needed for licensed broadcasters in the repack.

"Until we know the full consequences, intended and unintended, their request for free [unlicensed] spectrum, is a little premature," Smith said given that broadcasters have such a big public policy goal to achieve in the post-auction repack.

Smith said he thought rural broadband should be part of an infrastructure package and that there could be room for Microsoft once the technology is more "proven up."

"We want rural broadband," Smith said, pointing out that the new ATSC 3.0 standard would allow broadcasters to be a broadband player, too, but added that he did not want that at the price of doing something "too early."

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.