Senators Push FCC on White Space Spectrum

Lawmakers claim the buffer spectrum between broadcast channels holds potential for greater broadband penetration.

Five U.S. senators urged the Federal Communications Commission Dec. 20 to approve the unlicensed use of the interference buffer spectrum—known as white space—between television channels.

Although broadcasters are allocated hundreds of megahertz of spectrum in every U.S. television market, significant chunks go unused, serving as interference zones from other channels. The unused spectrum is considered ideal for wireless broadband because the radio signals penetrate walls and other objects.

The broadcasting industry is adamantly opposed to the white spaces proposal currently being studied by the FCC, insisting that the use of spectrum will lead to harmful interference with their broadcasting signals. Google, Microsoft and other tech firms covet the spectrum as an alternative to telecommunications and cable companies delivering Internet connections.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the use of white spaces spectrum has "enormous potential" from a consumer standpoint.


Click here to read more about why Microsoft and Google want the FCC to reconsider its opposition to the use of unused broadcasting buffer frequencies.

The lawmakers listed cost-effective wireless services in rural areas, mesh networks in underserved portions of the country and reduced public safety costs as some of the benefits of white spaces use.

"To truly maximize these potential benefits, this unused spectrum should be allocated for unlicensed use by both personal/portable devices and fixed services," the letter stated. "This approach will maximize innovative new broadband offerings and devices to the American public."


The technology industry's push for white spaces spectrum suffered a setback this summer when FCC testing on a white spaces prototype device created interference with television signals. By September, Microsoft and Philips Electronics had submitted a new device for FCC testing that the two companies claim was 100 percent successful in detecting television stations' signals.

"We urge you to support the creation of rules that will provide incumbents with the protection to which they are entitled and to avoid overly restrictive regulation that would make white spaces devices technically or economically infeasible," the senators' letter to Martin stated.


Check out's Mobile & Wireless Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.