Pai Proposing Expanded White Space Use for Broadband

This story has been updated with a statement from NAB.

WASHINGTON—FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has presented a new proposal that would provide additional opportunities for unlicensed white space devices to deliver wireless broadband services in the spectrum previously marked for broadcast television bands (channels 2-35).

Back in March of 2019, the FCC approved the use of white spaces between TV channels by fixed and wireless mobile devices, specifically unused channels, channel 37, guard bands between wireless spectrum and between uplink and downlink spectrum in the 600 MHz band. The goal of this was to increase broadband services in rural areas.

That is the same goal of Pai’s new proposal, which he revealed to the FCC commissioners on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and has marked for a vote at the FCC’s monthly Open Meeting on Feb. 28.

With this new proposal, Pai wants to permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices in rural areas. He argues that it will allow white space devices to reach users at greater distances for improved broadband coverage. It would also enable signals to better penetrate foliage, buildings and other obstacles. In addition, it would permit higher power mobile operators within geo-fenced areas and proposes rule revisions to facilitate the development of “new and innovative narrowband Internet of Things-based services.”

With the requirement that white space device operations protect other authorized services from interference, Pai also has proposed increasing the minimum required separation distance for white space devices operating at higher power.

“TV white spaces can play a critical role in providing broadband services to rural and underserved areas,” Pai said. “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.”

NAB's Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton released the following statement regarding Pai's new proposal:

"NAB appreciates the consensus-based approach the FCC is taking in this proceeding. We look forward to working with the commission and other stakeholders to develop final rules that will allow more flexibility for rural white spaces operations while protecting broadcasters."

If approved at the Feb. 28 meeting, the public will be able to provide feedback to this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking prior to any official adoption.