FCC commissioner Baker vows to speed up white spaces initiative

Speaking last week at the TV White Spaces Summit in Washington, D.C., FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker said the FCC’s inaction on the TV white spaces initiative has left innovators and manufacturers without sufficient, reliable guidance and that will soon change.

However, she said, progress has been made during the FCC’s downtime. “Whether developing a database that identifies available white spaces in the TV band, lighting up a rural community or deploying useful applications, progress is being made,” Baker said. “On the basis of just a few of the applications that I have heard about, it is clear there can be benefits. For example, one company has recently developed an online database to facilitate identification of TV white spaces. This tool will aid deployments in rural areas, enabling residents to experience high-speed Internet connectivity without the need for costly infrastructure deployments.”

Baker highlighted “Smart City”— which includes meter reading and remote monitoring, which she said offers better city services and saves money. “Wireless technologies offer the answer, and when deployed in the lower frequencies of the TV bands, they offer significant propagation advantages over other wireless solutions,” she said.

Environmental monitoring, disaster recovery and public safety are other useful applications, Baker said. She noted in Wilmington, NC, the placing of tiny wireless sensors in neighboring wetlands (which provide real-time information), the city does not have to rely on human meter readers whose infrequent visits may come too late to alert officials to environmental damage.

Baker said dynamic spectrum access technologies are far more powerful. “As we know only too well from the digital TV transition and related proceedings, reallocations are hard. Sharing spectrum is easier. Dynamic spectrum access is even better and may facilitate the deployment of different types of technologies in the same bands.”

Baker encouraged additional research and development to enable engineers to facilitate more intense sharing and more dynamic management in a variety of spectrum bands. “The results will be far-reaching and could even help manage the risk of interference in licensed spectrum, particularly with respect to deploying new technologies adjacent to existing services,” she said.

Baker called for action in three areas: “First, we need to finalize the plans for the TV bands and provide the direction that industry needs to plan for the future. Second, we must encourage the further development of spectrum-sensing technology and establish the testing procedures for the ‘proof of performance’ standard for such devices.”

And, third, she said is the database. “We need an innovative, interactive and user-friendly database that will not only serve the TV white spaces but also other spectrum bands, including government spectrum and NATO bands. Over time, I would hope the database could draw on the intelligence of devices that can sense spectrum around them to improve the accuracy and predictability of the database itself.”

Moves to speed up white spaces policy also got support from Capitol Hill. Two prominent U.S. senators called on the FCC to fast track policy on white space devices.

“We request that you prioritize action on white spaces and urge the FCC to adhere to its Broadband Action Agenda and complete final rules in the third quarter of 2010,” Sens. John Kerry, D-MA, and Olympia Snowe, R-ME, told the commission in a letter. They noted that it has been nearly two years since the FCC first authorized the technology, which will allow devices to utilize unused television channels for wireless broadband.