Microsoft’s TV white space proposal moves forward

landscape (pixabay)
The FCC proposed changes to its TV White Space rules to pave the way for better broadband coverage in rural areas. (Pixabay)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday proposed updates to TV white space (TVWS) rules in the name of better broadband for rural areas of the country.

It's a win for Microsoft, which last year had filed a petition seeking updates to the rules to advance its Airband Initiative. White spaces operate in portions of the broadcast television bands that are not used by television stations, and while Microsoft early on was met with resistance from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the parties managed to come to terms on a number of items (PDF).

Specifically, the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeks comment on a proposal to permit higher transmit power and antenna height above average terrain for fixed white space devices in less congested geographic areas.

If adopted, the changes would allow white space devices to reach users at greater distances, resulting in better broadband coverage. It also would permit higher-power mobile operation within defined geographical areas, and revise the rules to provide flexibility for these devices to more fully participate in the IoT.

Microsoft President Brad Smith tweeted the company’s response to the news on Friday.

One of the criticisms with TVWS has been around the accuracy of the FCC’s databases. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in his statement said improvements have been made to ensure the accuracy of the databases, and “we are finally in a position where interested parties can determine whether there is usable spectrum in a specific area, providing them with the needed assurances to invest and deploy systems.”  

Interest far and wide

Other industry stakeholders applauded the FCC’s move as well.

The FCC’s 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, according to Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA). “This is a good move for services using TV White Space technologies, and will help more rural Americans get on the internet,” he said in a statement.

RELATED: Microsoft garners support for TV white space reforms

“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 at the Open Technology Institute at New America. “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.”

Connect Americans Now (CAN) consists more than 270 members, including Microsoft and groups representing agriculture, education, veteran and telehealth organizations.

In a statement, CAN Executive Director Richard Cullen said the action on TVWS can help more farmers and ranchers capitalize on advancements in precision agriculture and improve access to telehealth solutions for more seniors and veterans, among other things.

“With so much at stake, we encourage the Commission to move swiftly to finalize and implement rules in 2020 that support greater utilization of TV white space to enhance the pace, scale and cost-effectiveness of rural broadband deployments,” he said.