FCC Proposes Changes to TV White Space Rules, Increasing Broadband Coverage

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed to change rules governing TV white space rules, and reallocate the space to improving broadband coverage in rural areas. White spaces are the unused wireless spectrum between television channels; it is unused to avoid interference between stations. The change would give “additional opportunities for unlicensed white space devices to deliver wireless broadband services in rural areas. Such devices operate in portions of the broadcast television bands (channels 2-35) and spectrum not being used for authorized services.” Pai is looking to expand the growth of said devices to increase coverage and service to rural or underserved communities.

The proposal would allow a “higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices in rural areas,” allowing the devices to broadcast to greater distances and penetrate foliage and buildings. Chairman Pai’s proposal would “permit higher power mobile operations within geo-fenced areas and proposes rule revisions to facilitate the development of new and innovative narrowband Internet of Things-based services.” Chairman Pai believes the proposed changes would help consumers and while making efficient use of valuable spectrum.

“TV white spaces can play a critical role in providing broadband services to rural and underserved areas,” FCC Chairman Pai said. “I saw the promise of this technology in South Boston, a town in rural Virginia, where I met a student who said getting Internet access in his home was a game-changer. The FCC has taken steps to enable the use of white spaces over the years, and this new proposal would further help bridge the digital divide while protecting TV stations.”

Microsoft, Google, and Comcast have applauded the proposal after years of suggesting it is ideal for rural broadband service. “The proposed changes not only make the technological marketplace more robust, it will also be a boon to important U.S. communications policy objectives,” Louis Peraertz, VP of Policy for Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said. “Better TVWS services will provide another tool in the quiver of rural providers, such as our WISP members, who are looking for all the spectrum they can access to grow their small, local companies and help close the rural divide. Quite simply, better TVWS services will bring more rural Americans online and participating in our digital economy.” Those in favor also believe it will help bridge the technology and service coverage gap. “Under the proposal, farms, schools and rural internet providers will be able to harness the power of unused TV spectrum to extend Wi-Fi and other unlicensed wireless technologies, helping to narrow the homework gap, fuel precision agriculture and extend connectivity to less populated parts of the country,” Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project, stated.

The FCC will vote on the initiative on February 28. If approved, the public will be able to provide feedback.