Television broadcasting took a back seat to WiFi — the wireless computer networking technology — when the FCC last week approved new rules that allow computers to communicate in the spaces between broadcast channels.
In an unanimous vote, FCC members endorsed a plan Thursday to tap unused television spectrum to bring high-speed Internet connections and other wireless technologies to more computer users, especially in rural areas.
The vote begins a lengthy rulemaking process in which television broadcast stations will oppose the plan. Broadcasters contend it might cause interference, disrupting reception of terrestrial television signals.
However, Ed Thomas, the FCC’s chief engineer, said current technology can avoid interference problems. WiFi can sense when a frequency is being used and scan for another available pocket of spectrum. That technology, Thomas said, can be expanded to the television spectrum to avoid interference.
Under the plan, wireless companies would be allowed access to the unused spectrum in local areas between channels five and 51, with a few exceptions. The frequencies available involve spectrum below 700MHz, Thomas said. These lower frequency bands allow signals to travel farther, easily penetrating walls, trees and other obstructions through which higher frequencies cannot pass.
Wireless users would not have to obtain spectrum licenses, but could only operate in the unused bands in a way that causes no interference with licensed broadcasters, the FCC said.
The FCC’s action drew praise from consumer and industry groups.
The FCC will take comments from the public over the next two and a half months. Final rules are expected in about six months to a year.