Google Cheers FCC's Freeing of TV Airwaves

Google Sept. 23 applauded the Federal Communications Commission for freeing up the vacant airwaves between TV channels that are able to power wireless broadband networks.

Google rooted on the Federal Communications Commission, which Sept. 23 freed up the so-called "white spaces," or vacant airwaves between TV channels that can power speedy wireless broadband networks.

TV airwave signals can travel far and deep-through walls, in fact-making the spectrum well-suited for mobile devices that connect wirelessly to the Web, such as smartphones and tablet computers.

Google, Facebook, and other Internet companies covet this spectrum because they want to propagate their Web applications on smartphones, tablets, TVs and any device that will connect to the Internet.

The FCC had pre-approved white space use for the public in 2008, but the effort eventually became bogged down.

Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, wrote in a blog post:

"Today's order finally sets the stage for the next generation of wireless technologies to emerge, and is an important victory for Internet users across the country."

Google is already testing these white spaces. The company Sept. 14 launched a broadband network using the spectrum at the Hocking Valley Community Hospital, in Logan, Ohio. Google helped the hospital outfit first-responder vehicles with the network. The hospital is also using the network to manage its video surveillance for the grounds.

Google rival Microsoft has been testing technology at its Redmond, Wash., campus, stretching Internet access across a mile of its campus using two antennae.

"As more people access information via mobile and other intelligent devices, additional strain is being put on existing wireless networks," said Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, in a statement.

Google and Microsoft's experiments are the type of activity FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and his four commissioners hope to see more of now that the agency has given the white-space spectrum the green light.

"Unlocking this valuable spectrum will open the doors for new industries to arise, create American jobs, and fuel new investment and innovation," the FCC said in a statement, noting that this is the first significant block of spectrum issued for public use in 25 years.

TV broadcasters and wireless microphone makers had opposed the freeing of the white-space spectrum, claiming it would interfere with their broadcast signals and wireless microphones. These groups sued the FCC last year to stop the spectrum from going public.

Adding insult to injury for its white-space opponents, the FCC struck down constraints requiring that TV devices incorporate geolocation, and database access must include sensing technology to detect the signals of TV stations and wireless microphones.

To assuage wireless broadcasters' concerns, the FCC said it is reserving two vacant UHF channels for wireless microphones across the country.

Moreover, TV stations and wireless microphones will register in a database as a protected service; those seeking to use the white spaces will have to check that database.

The TV spectrum move also buoys the FCC's National Broadband Plan designed to facilitate broadband access across the country, especially in rural areas, where access is poor or even absent.