2008 Year in Review: Broadband for the masses idea gains traction

White-space spectrum, M2Z's push for a nationwide wireless broadband network and President-elect Barack Obama's proclamation that broadband and national Internet access must be universal, are creating a greater focus on bridging that pesky digital divide.

The white-space spectrum, which sits between airwaves licensed to TV broadcasters, was the subject of debate with companies such as Google, Microsoft and Motorola lobbying the FCC heavily for approval, saying unlicensed use of the spectrum would unleash super WiFi networks that have greater scope than today's WiFi systems. Broadcasters and wireless microphone users such as entertainers and professional sports groups adamantly oppose its use. The FCC, however, voted unanimously to approve unlicensed use of TV white space spectrum for wireless applications.

M2Z and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin champion a free wireless Internet proposal to create a nationwide license in the 2155-2180 MHz band and require the winning bidder to open up 25 percent of its network for free broadband access with a filter to keep pornography off of it. M2Z Networks, an advocate of this plan, had also pushed for these rules. The FCC has canceled a vote on the issue, and it's unclear whether this administration's FCC will vote on the plan or if a new FCC under Obama's administration will take up the plan.

Meanwhile, Obama's announcement that broadband for the masses will be a priority is expected to be part of what observers call his "new New Deal." In the mid-20th Century, the New Deal meant money for highway construction and other public works projects, but in the 21st Century, broadband is getting added to the list.  But how does this all come to fruition? How will the funds be doled out, what companies and technology will benefit and what strings will be attached in terms of regulations?

The bottom line: White-space spectrum has been approved, but all has been quiet from the technology companies that have championed the concept. What type of momentum will occur in 2009? The M2Z plan is in limbo now. It's unclear if it will ever see the light of day, and while Obama has made broadband a priority, the heavy lifting has yet to begin.