Tech giants Microsoft and Google could soon be on the air. This week the U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved a plan that would open the soon-to-be vacant television airwaves to new wireless devices.
This is the spectrum that has been used for the past seven decades to deliver analog TV signals, and with the switch-over to digital coming in February the analog spectrum will fade to black… or more accurately static. Primetime (and all other times for that matter) will go digital, although not necessarily HD, or high definition is being erroneously reported. While all HD is essentially digital, all digital isn’t HD, but that’s another issue. The point is that the old spectrum won’t be used for over-the-air broadcasts.
And last year this spectrum was highly sought after with arguments coming from multiple sides, especially given the on-going debate of who actually owns this part of the airwaves. The short answer is of course the “people,” but it isn’t so simple. The FCC oversees how the broadcast spectrum is utilized, so while Microsoft and Google will likely soon be using these airwaves, it should be stressed that they don’t really “own” them.
This week the five-member FCC voted to open the unlicensed pockets of the so-called “white space,” which will become available in February when the switch is made to digital TV. And companies such as Google and Microsoft are looking to use this space for new innovations in mobile devices including cellular phones. This could see greater wireless functionality, and possibly even improve on current wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi.
Of course there is already opposition to the plan, and this is coming from traditional broadcasters, who fear that signals sent over that part of the spectrum could cause interference. Additionally even performers are standing up against it, suggesting that the signals sent white space spectrum could further interfere with wireless microphones at live events!
Interestingly the idea of allowing the spectrum to be opened up has remained a fairly bipartisan issue with the FCC lawmakers. The Republicans seem to like the free-market approach while Democrats like the fact that it could be pro-consumer and should be affordable.
And while the FCC has approved the plan, don’t expect the traditional broadcasters (or a few musicians) to go down without a fight.