Barack Obama wasn't the only big winner in the United States on Election Day. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's decision late Tuesday to allow new kinds of broadband devices to operate in unused television spectrum will reinvigorate the U.S. tech industry and provide a new broadband option for customers, supporters said.
Several big tech vendors, including Google, Microsoft, and Motorola, have pushed the FCC for years to open up the TV spectrum to unlicensed broadband use. Although U.S. President-Elect Obama hasn't taken a stand on the so-called spectrum white spaces, he has encouraged the U.S. government to focus on ways to bring broadband to parts of the country that have limited or no broadband options.
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"This is an historic vote for our national economy, for consumer choice, and more competitive broadband markets," said Wally Bowen, executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network, a broadband provider based in Ashville, N.C. "Most of all, it is a victory for those areas of rural America and underserved urban neighborhoods, which have too long been denied the benefits of affordable high-speed Internet access."
Despite strong lobbying efforts by the U.S. television industry, wireless microphone makers, some churches, and performing artists, the vote "should be a clear signal to the new Congress and administration that this ruling is based on solid science and sound public policy," Bowen added. "Nov. 4, 2008, will be viewed by history as one of the FCC's finest moments."
Bowen and other supporters said two rounds of FCC testing showed that white-space devices can operate in the TV spectrum without interfering with existing users. A report released by the FCC in mid-October showed that prototype devices avoided interference in most, but not all, cases. The FCC will require new devices to include safeguards against interference, including geolocation technology, which uses technologies such as GPS to match a white-space device's location against a preexisting database of spectrum users.
Opponents of opening up the white spaces to broadband devices continued to raise concerns that the devices would interfere with existing TV and wireless microphone signals. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) noted widespread opposition to the white-spaces vote, including dozens of U.S. lawmakers, several U.S. sports leagues, national TV networks, several large churches and dozens of performing artists.
Tuesday's vote "is just the beginning of a fight on behalf of the 110 million households that rely on television for news, entertainment, and lifesaving emergency information," Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive vice president, said in a statement. "Going forward, NAB and our allies will work with policy makers to ensure that consumers can access innovative broadband applications without jeopardizing interference-free TV."