Google pushes for unlicensed use of white-space spectrum

Google co-founder Larry Page visited Washington last week to lobby for the free, unlicensed use of white space spectrum. In a speech to the New America Foundation, Page used a wireless microphone to downplay interference concerns.

Page argued that unlicensed white spaces offer a way for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world in broadband access. He also sees white spaces as a way to reignite interest in municipal Wi-Fi networks, many of which are struggling or even being turned off due to financial and service quality problems.

Because the white space spectrum is more robust, networks using those frequencies could require one-fourth to one-fifth as many Wi-Fi transmitters to cover an area. Thus, network construction would cost less, while the wireless connections would be faster.

Should white spaces be approved for unlicensed use, Page hinted, Google might even build some networks for cities with its own funds. “We have money to invest,” he said. “We’d probably do it if we could do it on a reasonable scale.” Google currently operates a Wi-Fi network in Mountain View, CA, used by 40,000 people.

Opposition to Google’s plan not only comes from broadcasters, who fear interference with their digital broadcast signals, but wireless telcos, who fear competition.

The telcos wants white space spectrum to be auctioned. “We believe it’s a superior approach,” said Joel Farren, spokesman for CTIA, the wireless trade association. “It’s a proven model. It protects service quality for consumers.” And, based on the $20 billion raised earlier this year in a federal spectrum auction, “there’s a strong demand for licensed spectrum.”

David L. Donovan, president of MSTV, the broadcast lobby, disputed Google’s contention that unlicensed use of white space spectrum will not cause interference with television stations. “Interference is the issue,” Donovan argued. “A problem compounded by the lack of accountability and the inability to resolve real world interference problems in an unlicensed regime.”

An FCC decision regarding white space use is expected in the coming months.