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Why We Need Unlicensed White-Space Broadband Spectrum 179

pgoldtho writes "PC Mag has a story about why the 'white-space' spectrum that will be freed when TV broadcasts switch to digital should be available for unlicensed use. This would allow it to be used to deliver broadband connectivity in rural areas and create a 'third pipe' alternative to the cable/telco duopoly. The FCC is scheduled to vote on this November 4th. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has filed an emergency appeal to block this vote. If the NAB succeeds, the issue will be kicked into next year. Which would mean a new FCC, Congress, and Administration."
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Why We Need Unlicensed White-Space Broadband Spectrum

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  • Damn Reds. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wild_quinine ( 998562 ) on Friday October 31, 2008 @09:24AM (#25582215) Homepage
    Forget about it. If there's money to be made, someone's got a sniff of it and they're already lobbying harder than you ever could. (For 'harder' see 'with more assets'.)

    And even if it stands that the space will not be licensed for some other commercial use, the existing bandwidth owners will lobby against it ever being given back to the public, because there is money to be made fencing people in to their existing ownership of the spectrum.

    The very idea that the electromagnetic spectrum can be fenced off strikes me as ridiculous. Don't get me wrong - I'm aware of why it needs to be done. But it seems like such a short jump from there to Coca Cola declaring all rights over 'red'.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Zymergy ( 803632 ) *
      UPS already has Dibs on "Brown"...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by theaveng ( 1243528 )

        I sent a comment to the FCC about this November 4 hearing, and in short I said this: "My channel count will drop from 15 to just 3 channels, if you allow whitespace devices to broadcast on the television band." If my neighbor flips-on her whitespace-enabled Ipod next year, its broadcasts will block any television station further away that 25 miles. So instead of watching Baltimore, Philly, or Harrisburg television like I normally do, I will be limited to just the local DTV stations in little p


          "The broadcasters contend that adjacent channel interference would be significant even at the 40 mW level proposed by Kevin Martin. In fact, they claim that such a device would interfere with digital television signals when the viewer is 25 miles from the television tower and the whitespace device is 40 feet or less from the TV set. At 50 miles from the television tower, a whitespace devic

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dpilot ( 134227 )

          It's good to hear that the FCC is so attuned to the problems of RFI and TVI. Otherwise I'd be really worried about the practice in the Deep South where right-wing broadcasters manage to license frequencies adjacent to NPR stations, and effectively drown them off the air. Since the FCC is so concerned, of course they're going to address this.

      • UPS already has Dibs on "Brown"

        They can expect a lawsuit from south african spaceman dude any day now..

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      In Soviet Russia, the Red has you!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 )

      But it seems like such a short jump from there to Coca Cola declaring all rights over 'red'.

      Too late. In Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co. [], SCOTUS held that, "sometimes, a color will meet ordinary legal trademark requirements. And, when it does so, no special legal rule prevents color alone from serving as a trademark." They awarded trademark rights to "green-gold" to Qualitex.

      But of course, the issues are very different. Even at the physical level - most matter is opaque to the visible spectrum but

      • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

        They awarded trademark rights to "green-gold" to Qualitex.

        So the Packers pay Qualitex a royalty or somethin' to use the colors?

        • So the Packers pay Qualitex a royalty or somethin' to use the colors?

          Trademark rights aren't necessarily all-or-nothing in that way. In the Qualitex decision, the Court held that a color could be protected by trademark rights if it was used to identify a specific brand of a particular product. Since the Packers aren't trying to sell green-gold dry cleaning press pads, it seems unlikely that Qualitex's trademark would apply.

          Similarly, there's nothing that prevents me from selling brown laptops (except g

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elashish14 ( 1302231 )

      The worst part (as mentioned in TFA): the spectrum (like many other things) is AUCTIONED. The rights are only going to end up in the hands of already-rich corporations who seek nothing but profit. No one will ever win.

      Yes, the spectrum does need to be regulated - not by money - but by how it will benefit the people that use it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by thePig ( 964303 )

        Not quite.
        Money drives the invisible hand, and that invisible hand does a better job of improving society than any philanthropy.

  • Useful frequency? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 31, 2008 @09:32AM (#25582287)

    How useful would these whitespace frequencies be at the home users end if this was used for two way internet? They aren't going to be running huge 50,000 watt towers like the TV broadcasters use. At say 5 watts (whatever/small) for the home connection "last mile" rig, will this work over long distances with hills and trees, or will it be line of sight and not much better than current wifi? I tried a service with motorola canopy wireless and it's still line of sight to a tower, any hills in the way and the signal dergrades fast to barely there or nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      will this work over long distances with hills and trees, or will it be line of sight and not much better than current wifi?

      Running at less than half the frequency of WiFi, it will do considerably better at going through obstacles, but it's not LF, it's not going to travel hundreds of miles and skip of the ionosphere... You're ALWAYS going to be constrained by line of sight and the curvature of the earth.

    • The issue of power, distance and line-of-sight are all things that are actually big parts of the debate on this.

      For instance, if your internet device is in a valley between two hills, and a TV tower is broadcasting on one hill, with a tv viewer on the other, your device may not be able to determine that they're broadcasting there.

      The net result is crap internet for you and you've annihilated the TV signal for the person viewing it on the other side of the valley.

      • Oh, and there's a good chance you'll knock out the unlicensed wireless microphone system in the church up the street.

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      The lower frequency will give you a much better chance than current WiFi frequencies, but it will be fairly short range (last mile, not across the state). A good directional antenna will be your friend for any fixed installation. Mobile may not work all that well. Unlike current frequencies, a wet leaf won't ruin your day. A few hills will be fine, but large granite faces will be a problem still.

  • What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rmadmin ( 532701 ) <rmalek@h[ ] ['ome' in gap]> on Friday October 31, 2008 @09:36AM (#25582315) Homepage
    Seriously.. WHAT? We don't _NEED_ this to provide rural broadband. If 900mhz, 2.4ghz, 5.7Ghz, and 5.9ghz (are there more?) aren't enough, THEN YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG! I'm providing rural broadband right now over both 900 and 2.4 to over 100 customers. The base package is 1Mbit/512K. Not bad if you live on a farm in Iowa if you ask me.
    • flatlands (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How does that work with the hills and trees in the way? I asked this up above, as I tried such a service and it didn't work, had to go back to dialup. Hills where I live on this farm, not flatlands like Iowa. Sorry but I don't know what frequency that motorola canopy based service was, I forget now, but I will assume it was one of those in your list, and the techs said no line of sight=SOL.

      • i worked with a wISP for a while. 700mhz and 900mhz equipment can handle a surprising amount of foliage and still provide a decent connection.

        however, they wont shoot straight through trees, but if foliage is in some of the lower part of the trannsmission field (called a fresnel zone) then the signal is passable.

        as you get to higher frequencies, objects are more of a problem (at least as far as the canopy stuff goes). hills....well hills you cant do dick about. theyre very thick and dense, unlike scattered

      • by dpilot ( 134227 )

        Why answer with a cogent, technical solution when a simple insult will do:


    • The base package is 1Mbit/512K. Not bad if you live on a farm in Iowa if you ask me.

      Bad if you ask anyone living somewhere in Sweden, say Götebarrrrr or Karrrrrlskrona... ;)

    • That's a viable plan in Iowa, or even in Phoenix where I live (unless you live near Camelback Mountain...).

      But try that plan in rural Maine, my hometown for instance. Not working. 900MHz is a struggle, and anything above 1.5G is a waste of time for rural distances. Just not happening.

      This is the problem with metro wireless solutions. Real rural areas are largely hilly, forested, and unfriendly to microwave spectrum. Get down a little bit, even to 700MHz, and it all becomes so much easier. Oh, and one

  • The current deficit and the $700bn bailout sort of ensures that this will be sold off to get ANY sort of money back into the central pot.

  • Freeness? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by elashish14 ( 1302231 )

    When will America get it? Some things, like education, healthcare/health insurance, 911 (police, fire department, ambulance), and the internet should be offered to everyone. They're not assets, they're life essentials. Right now, they're only guaranteed to two of those and one of them (education) is fading fast.

    There was once a time when the fire department was a private service - imagine what life would be like if they still had to pay for that (yes, I know we pay taxes anyways, but it's still granted fo

    • You are 100% correct. Everybody has a right to healthcare.

      Everybody has a right to walk into a doctor's office, say "I'm sick," and expect the doctor to try to heal them.

      What they do NOT have a right to do is take the bill and hand-it-off to their neighbors & force the neighbors to pay the bill. That's called theft. It's YOUR bill; YOU pay for it.

      • by Chyeld ( 713439 )

        You are 100% correct. Everybody has a right to healthcare.

        Everybody has a right to walk into a doctor's office, say "I'm sick," and expect the doctor to try to heal them.

        What they do NOT have a right to do is take the bill and hand-it-off to their neighbors & force the neighbors to pay the bill. That's called theft. It's YOUR bill; YOU pay for it.

        And everyone in the world agrees with that till they get sick.

        Till they get sick and look at their bill and realize they are paying $50 for an aspirin pill.


        • >>>And everyone in the world agrees with that till they get sick.

          Even if I was laying on my deathbed, I would NOT steal money from my neighbor. I'm going to die anyway, whether it's now at age 60, or later at age 70. The end point (coffin) is not changing and there's no point trying to fight the inevitable destination.

          But if I steal money from my neighbor, and force them to pay my doctor's bill, well, that could have dramatic consequences. Like eternal damnation.

        • If he was so successful, why didn't he have a health insurance plan? Why do others have to pay for his lack of foresight?
          • by BLKMGK ( 34057 )

            You'd be surprised what even the "insured" are expected to pay when it comes to life altering accidents or illness. I've seen this occur to people three times in my life and it is NEVER pretty.

    • Why stop there? I mean, for how long are they going to keep life essentials like a personal yacht and 24/7 Swedish hooker from everyone? How about iPods? Fuck!

      It's just disgraceful, all those rich fellas ought to contribute back some of their profits to society. ;-)

      • by BigGar' ( 411008 )

        Yes, or to put it succinctly:
        To each according to their need.
        From each according to their ability.

        Karl Marx

  • This is nonsense. (Score:4, Informative)

    by chaboud ( 231590 ) on Friday October 31, 2008 @10:27AM (#25582983) Homepage Journal

    While I love the idea of free and open internet communication (unlikely if we farm this out to Google and Microsoft), if they plan on using the performances they've seen in FCC tests as the benchmark, you can expect even your cable TV to cut out. I absolutely love the concept, but the simple fact is that current versions of these devices don't work, and Kevin Martin is for sale [].

    I'd put $50 on him ending up at Google or Microsoft within a year of leaving the FCC. Anyone who talks with the people who were at the white-space device tests knows that these devices failed miserably. If you think the iPhone (or any GSM phone, honestly) next to your speakers is annoying, just wait for these puppies.

  • Stories like this one make my head spin. For some reason, people simply can't seem to get the engineering issues through their heads.

    Prototype devices tested by the FCC earlier this summer were shown to be capable of detecting Digital TV stations. However, they were not even close to capable of detecting wireless audio devices such as microphones, in-ear monitors, wireless intercom systems, and IFB devices. You may not realize it, but these devices are all around you, and chances are, they are mission-cr

  • Examine the premises (Score:3, Informative)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday October 31, 2008 @10:46AM (#25583287) Journal

    1) Spectrum being freed up.

    No. No spectrum is freed up by switching from analog to digital. A digital station takes up 6Mhz, same as an analog station. It's true that the FCC has relaxed adjacent channel restrictions, but any spectrum freed by that is balanced by the loss of channels 52-69, which have already been auctioned off. There's no truly free high-VHF or UHF slot between New York and Baltimore; spectrum's full.

    2) WSDs being able to detect stations

    For a WSD to reliably detect another transmitter, it would have to be as sensitive and have as good an antenna as the intended reciever. What are the chances of that, particularly in a portable device? Sure, your little iAndroZune with its 2" stub can't detect the channel, but my purpose-built TV tuner with a 10dBi antenna could pick it up fine... or it could, until the iAndroZune started stepping all over it.

    3) Won't interfere even assuming it finds a white space
    The front-end filters on TV tuners have about a 5-channel passband. A strong signal anywhere in there can cause the RF amp to overload or force the AGC to cut in and thus desensitize the tuner. One of the FCCs own studies showed it could be cause up to 70dB of sensitivity loss on adjecent channels, which makes the difference between very good reception and none at all. Furthermore, those of us using a pre-amp to receive weaker stations don't have the benefit of front-end filtering; a white space device anywhere in the band can cause problems throughout the band. Note that some of those little USB stick tuners don't have front-end filtering either.

  • There are very good reasons to allow public use of white space. Internet access prices should drop, wifi should become more widespread, and there's the tasty idea of mobile phone calls (at least local) becoming FREE, since they will communicate *directly* with each other.

    Google are in fact in favour, and have created a website here []. They sum it up pretty well.
  • and get me my thick stick. ill talk to them in a language they can understand
  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Friday October 31, 2008 @11:50AM (#25584445) Homepage Journal
    Licensing is not free market. licensing doesnt bolster competition. it creates a limited monopoly for those corporations who were able to buy those licenses.

    imagine roads were privatized. imagine 10 companies bought roads, and used them as they wished, and charged anyone using them anything they wished.

    do you think we would be in the level we are today as a civilization ?

    we wouldnt.

    there are some things, venues that need to be open to everyone, for anything, SO THAT competition, free market CAN happen.

    FCC should vote totally in favor of this free spectrum. its necessary for betterment of mankind, leave aside internet access in a few locales.
  • And how are they going to properly detect which channels are not being used? There are places where signals are present on virtually every channel except in the "lo band" (channels 2 to 6) and the reserved channel 37. These signals can be very weak, and not even detectable with a cheap antenna (rabbit ears or a simple loop for UHF), while fully receivable with a decent antenna. Some low power transmitter nearby with just a tiny antenna would fail to detect the transmitted signal, has no way to know what

  • I'd prefer licensed operations in the whitespace. That way, the FCC could ensure that the equipment and its operation would not cause interference prior to allowing its operation. The alternative is that substandard equipment will make its way onto the market and will then have to be hunted down after it triggers numerous complaints.
  • Seems odd to me that the broadcasters are playing for time. If there is an Obama presidency beginning next year, I'd expect an FCC realignment much less likely to give big players whatever they want. At some point in this whole whitespace debate, I seem to remember hearing that they were seeking no triple-adjacency for any whitespace devices. No single adjacency is understandable, double-adjacency is pushing it, but triple adjacency is ridiculous. That was a snapshot - I have no idea where the debate we

  • The FCC has already licensed the frequencies in question.... to the television stations. Each TV station gets unfettered access to a 6 MHz wide band - nothing limits what they do with that freqency band. So I'm not sure exactly how the FCC can license those same frequencies a second time. Legally, I think the NAB and the TV stations own these frequencies and should fight to retain them. If these frequencies are so valuable, the current owners should be the ones to profit if they choose to sublicense them.
  • If these whitespace devices are so good at detecting and avoiding interference, why don't we also put them in military, fire, and police whitespace...

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.