National Broadband Plan Includes Wireless, TV ‘White Space’

April 10, 2009
The FCC this week announced it had begun the process of developing a national broadband plan to ensure every American has access to broadband capability. Although wireless broadband was not mentioned in the announcement, the Notice of Inquiry has a section on “Wireless Service Policies.” Some of the options outlined in the section include encouraging carriers to provide service to rural areas, spectrum use, unlicensed use of core TV spectrum “white spaces” and new satellite services.

With regards to TV “white space”, the Notice of Inquiry asks, “Given the importance to wireless broadband services of backhaul to the PSTN and the Internet, how can this spectrum be maximized to provide point-to-point backhaul in rural areas? Several other bands are currently used by WISPs to provide broadband through the use of unlicensed devices. What more should the Commission do with respect to permitting the use of unlicensed devices? How should the Commission measure 'subscribership' or use of devices utilizing unlicensed spectrum? What more should the Commission do to promote the development of cognitive radio devices in order to ensure more availability of spectrum for broadband uses? To what extent should unlicensed wireless play a role in a national broadband plan?”

The FCC recognized satellite links may be the only option for rural areas with low population density and little telecommunication infrastructure. “The Commission has also streamlined non-routine earth station processing rules, which has facilitated access to terrestrial communications facilities by satellite-based broadband service providers,” the NOI said. “Given the ubiquitous coverage capabilities of satellites, we seek comment on what further actions the Commission can take to promote the use of satellite-based platforms for access to broadband, especially in rural and remote communities.” The new broadcasting satellite services (BSS) licenses in the 17/24 GHz offer the potential for a new generation of broadband services to the public.

For broadcasters, use of TV band “white space” for coordinated fixed links is preferable to having a large number of unlicensed personal portable devices operating within a few meters of TV sets. If it is determined more spectrum will help national broadband deployment, don't be surprised if the FCC considers other frequencies allocated for broadcast or broadcast auxiliary services for national broadband for use in rural areas.

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