Spectrum drafts put unlicensed white space in jeopardy


It has been all broadcasters could do to apply the brakes to the locomotive force behind the attempt to usurp broadcast spectrum turf to use for wireless broadband. Television broadcasters seem to have gotten significant attention on the Hill. But it seems like only yesterday when broadcasters were trying to stave off the onslaught of unlicensed devices in the holes between stations. Now those devices are said to be endangered.

Harold Feld of Public Knowledge argues that unlicensed white spaces are used by both large and small companies. It makes it possible for wifi service to make it to rural areas that do not offer the mass subscriber pool sought by large ISPs – and also fuels service in coffee shops and other similar locations, and beyond that, it offers space for entrepreneurs to try out new services that would be inconceivable to a company that is looking to extract ROI on a huge investment to license the spectrum in the first place.

Feld says the new draft will pretty much eliminate unlicensed spectrum – it would require the larger companies that use the space to outbid companies that wish to have exclusive rights to the spectrum chunk – and in return, they would simply have kept the spectrum open to all comers. Watchdogs that oppose the draft spectrum bill consider it inconceivable that a company or group of companies could prevail over a telco in an auction just to keep a piece of spectrum open, and therefore consider the bill a de facto ruling in favor of licensed white spaces over unlicensed.

Feld believes that the end result will be large owners working to maximize return on a large investment, with small niche providers, entrepreneurs and others effectively tossed aside.