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Cable Technology Feature Article

November 05, 2008

FCC Approves Vacant TV Broadcast Spectrum

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously voted to approve use of vacant TV broadcast spectrum on an unlicensed basis, clearing the way for development of broadband data devices and services that could be used by businesses and consumers.

The rules permit the operation of unlicensed devices in the TV white spaces on both a fixed and portable basis. Such devices generally must include a geo-location capability, the ability to access a data base of the licensed users and services and spectrum-sensing technology, all to avoid interference with licensed users and services.

Those users include full-power and low-power TV stations and cable system headends.

Wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways. The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the data base and will be protected in the same way as other services. The Commission also has required that devices include the ability to listen to the airwaves to sense wireless microphones as an additional measure of protection for these devices.

The proposal, approved on a five-to-zero vote, is expected to offer new opportunities for broadband data services in both urban and rural areas. The upshot is more broadband access competition in rural and urban areas for 3G and 4G wireless, cable, DSL, fiber-to-home, satellite broadband and fixed wireless services.

Though some conventional wisdom continues to assert that the United States has a "broadband access" problem, the FCC's (News - Alert) decision suggests, along with other data, that broadband access is not a terribly big problem. A recent survey of about 146 rural telcos shows 100-percent availability of broadband. Fully 93 percent of those providers report there is broadband competition already, in their markets.

And now we will have "white spaces" to contend with. To the extent that “broadband access” has been a matter of supply, it now increasingly is a spotty, localized issue. There are plenty of competitors, so the market increasingly now looks to be “demand constrained,” not “supply constrained.” That probably won’t stop some people from complaining about the “broadband access” problem. But people often complain about problems that already are solved. After all, people can’t sell “solutions” when “problems” don’t exist. But we ought to be skeptical about people who want to “fix” problems that don’t exist.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tim Gray