Stakeholders React to FCC's White Spaces Item

The FCC's decision to expand the use of so-called "white spaces" TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband drew quite a crowd Friday after a unanimous vote to allow for higher power and taller towers to extend the reach of unlicensed uses.

Related: FCC Votes to Free Up More White Spaces Spectrum

Broadcasters had worked with the FCC and Microsoft to come up with a compromise approach to the expansion without causing interference to broadcasters who are the primary and licensed users of the band.

The National Association of Broadcasters was not popping champagne, but did encourage further discussion. "The NPRM the FCC has adopted reflects significant discussion and compromise," said NAB EVP Dennis Wharton. "We hope the Commission will continue to pursue a consensus-based approach in this proceeding, and we hope the Commission will move swiftly."

Microsoft president Brad Smith tweeted his praise:


Microsoft proposed the boosts to towers and powers that the FCC adopted.

“Spectrum is a finite resource and it’s critical we use innovative policies, technologies and approaches to get the most out of our airwaves to bring the benefits of 5G to the most people," said WiFi Forward. "Today, the FCC took major steps forward in spectrum efficiency, putting our unused TV airwaves to good use and setting up auction rules to enable robust commercial sharing of the 3.5 GHz spectrum band with government users. These forward-leaning approaches promise to connect schools, farms, hospitals and homes in unconnected communities nationwide. We commend the Commission for its work on these issues.”

The FCC's white spaces item boosts both mobile uses and fixed wireless uses, like the WiFi hot spots that WiFi Forward ISP members employ as their principal mobile broadband play.

“We applaud chairman Pai and the members of the Commission for taking this important step to unleash the full potential of TV white space technology as a critical tool to help bridge the digital divide,” said rural broadband advocate Connect Americans Now executive director Richard Cullen. “Chairman Pai and the FCC should be commended for their leadership in continuing to support broadband innovation and policies to maximize spectrum resources to expand hybrid network deployments in rural areas.”

“A unanimous FCC correctly recognizes the potential to use vacant TV channels to extend broadband in rural and remote areas," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program of New America's Open Technology Institute, who has been pushing white spaces use for almost two decades. "The proposal to allow the use of unlicensed TV white spaces to extend internet connectivity to vehicles, including school buses and farm equipment, meets critical needs. Opportunistic use of unused TV spectrum will bring enormous benefits to rural, tribal and unserved communities.”

"A belt-and-suspenders, interdisciplinary approach is demanded to bridge the so-called digital divide," said Louis Peraertz, VP of policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. "[T]oday’s work by the FCC to a large extent achieves that. More specifically, its TVWS Order, through its increased power and tower height limits, makes the band more powerful and useful, adding an important new tool to unlicensed rural providers employing it to serve customers, and energizing the underlying ecosystem which will further innovate due to the new rules."

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.