TV white space advocates applaud FCC’s rule changes

landscape (pixabay)
Unlicensed white space can provide a vital link to broadband, especially in rural areas. (Pixabay)

TV white space stakeholders mostly applauded the FCC’s order released Wednesday that spells out steps it’s taking to improve the accuracy of TV white space data and bring some certainty to the technology market.

In its Report and Order, the FCC adopted certain changes to the rules for fixed white space devices. Specifically, it is requiring all fixed white space devices to incorporate a geolocation capability such as GPS and eliminate the option that permitted the geographic coordinates of a fixed device to be determined by a professional installer. It also adopted rules that allow the use of external geolocation sources by a fixed white space device when the device is used at a location where its internal geolocation capability doesn’t function, such as deep inside a building.

While it has been at odds with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Microsoft has been a big champion for TV white spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—and has been working to harness white space technologies to improve the economics of delivering connectivity to rural America.

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“We applaud the FCC for today taking an important first step towards unlocking TV white space spectrum so rural communities can better access broadband connectivity,” Microsoft said in a statement. “There are several opportunities before the FCC to continue on this progress today and we encourage the Commission to move quickly on these items to help close the rural broadband gap.”

RELATED: Microsoft soldiers on with its TV white spaces initiative

Like Microsoft, others want to see the government take more action in the space.

Connect Americans Now describes itself as a group of concerned citizens, local organizations, rural advocates and others committed to eliminating the digital divide in rural America, something FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has designated as a top priority.

“This action shows that the Commission has been listening to the concerns of rural Americans, and we appreciate their continued commitment to bridging the rural broadband gap,” said Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard T. Cullen in a statement. “While this vote is a step in the right direction for internet service providers and equipment manufacturers eager to use TV white spaces technology to bring broadband to rural areas, there are still a number of outstanding regulatory barriers."

“We encourage the Commission to build on this momentum by immediately issuing a Further Notice of Rulemaking to address the outstanding regulatory issues hindering TV white space technology’s deployment. We look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai and the rest of the commissioners on our shared goal of bridging the rural broadband gap,” Cullen added.

The FCC acknowledged that fixed white space devices are being deployed today and typically are used to provide backhaul services for internet connectivity by Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), schools and libraries. The commission for some time has authorized the operation of unlicensed devices in unused channels of broadband television spectrum, in the guard band between television spectrum and 600 MHz downlink services, in the guard band between the 600 MHz service band uplinks and downlinks (the 600 MHz duplex gap) and on television channel 37. White space devices can be either fixed or portable.

RELATED: Rise Broadband encouraged by TV white space, 60 GHz speeds

The Open Technology Institute at New America also said it’s pleased to see that the FCC’s order makes vacant and unlicensed TV channels more useful for deploying better and more affordable broadband in rural America.

“To its credit, the Commission rejected efforts by broadcasters to try to deter the use of TVWS for rural broadband in furtherance of their goal to monetize public airwaves they neither paid for nor actually use,” said Michael Calabrese, director of Wireless Future Project at New America. “We now hope the Commission, as it suggests in the Order, will move quickly now with a further notice that resolves obstacles to use of Channel 37 and other antenna height and power issues that continue to constrain the utility of TVWS for rural communities.”

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