A pair of senators is urging the Federal Communications Commission to wrap up its proceeding to open unused wireless spectrum that sits between TV channels for unlicensed broadband networks.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) requested that the commission set the final rules for the so-called "white spaces" spectrum in the third quarter, bringing closure to a proceeding that's been on the table for more than half a decade.
The FCC approved an order to open the white-spaces spectrum in November 2008, over strenuous opposition from broadcasters and others who warned that the new networks would interfere with signals in adjacent bands.
In a nod to those concerns, the FCC in its order mandated the establishment of a national database cataloging TV station frequencies region by region. Any device connecting to a white-spaces network would have to be equipped with location-aware technology and communicate with the database to ensure it occupied a vacant channel.
But for Kerry and Snowe, the FCC hasn't moved fast enough to establish the database and begin the process of certifying devices.
They argued that the white spaces could play a significant role in bridging the digital divide, helping to bring many of the 14 million Americans without broadband access online, thanks to low-cost devices connecting to networks that rely on spectrum with strong propagation characteristics well suited for rural or remote areas.
In its national broadband plan, the FCC set the goal of wrapping up the white-spaces proceeding, but that recommendation was just one of 360, including several other spectrum-related actions, and Kerry and Snowe urged the chairman to resolve the issue in short order.
"The heart of the FCC's broadband plan focuses on releasing the full potential of the nation's spectrum as a platform for innovation and expanded low-cost broadband," Kerry said in a statement. "Opening white spaces will help achieve this goal by empowering manufacturers and consumers to construct multiple paths to the Internet."
White spaces have slid off the FCC's public agenda of late, as the agency has found itself in the center of a political firestorm over its plan to tighten its regulatory authority over the broadband-access sector. The divided commission is expected to approve a notice of inquiry to begin that process at its monthly meeting on Thursday by a three-to-two vote.
But the FCC's wireless bureau continues to lay the groundwork for implementing other spectrum recommendations laid out in the broadband plan, including the controversial proposal to reclaim 120 MHz from television broadcasters for mobile data networks. On Monday, the FCC's Spectrum Task Force released a technical paper (PDF available here) exploring options for consolidating broadcasters' allocations to increase efficiency, though the commission has said little about white spaces.
Last October, a network running on white-spaces spectrum under an experimental license went live in a rural area of Virginia, and the FCC has been receiving proposals for how to establish and operate the national database, including a pitch from Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), but the general deployment of the technology has been on hold.
As the commission crafts the final rules that will govern white-spaces devices and networks, Kerry and Snowe urged the chairman not to go overboard with burdensome technical requirements to prevent interference.
"It should be noted that geolocation technology coupled with a database should adequately protect users and additional spectrum-sensing capabilities should only be required when absolutely necessary since such requirement would unduly drive up the cost of white space devices and deter low-cost deployment opportunities," they wrote in their letter.
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