TV White Spaces Need to Open ASAP, Warner Tells FCC

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WASHINGTON—The move to make TV white spaces available for other users should be done “in the coming months before the end of the year,” according to Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in a letter to the FCC. The senator says that such action is needed to close the digital divide.

In February, the FCC unanimously issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would update the FCC’s rules regarding white spaces—the portions of broadcast television bands that are not used by TV stations—to allow “for more robust service and efficient use of white space devices particularly in rural areas, without increasing the risk of harmful interference to protected services in the TV bands.”

In his letter, Warner says that there are 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband, as well as 3.3 million who do not use the internet at broadband speeds, according to figures from the FCC.

“This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy,” Warner wrote. “This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth and online education.”

The specifics covered in the NPRM for white spaces includes allowing higher transmit power and antenna height above average terrain for fixed white space devices in less congested geographic areas to create greater reach by white space devices. It would also permit higher power mobile operation within defined geographical areas and revise the rules to provide flexibility for these devices to participate in the Internet of Things.

This would allow for affordable, reliable broadband to millions of Americans, according to Warner. The senator points out that Virginia has already run some pilot programs using TV white space and reports they have been an effective tool.

“By clearing regulatory barriers, the commission can enhance the pace, scale and cost-effectiveness of broadband deployments in unserved and underserved rural communities, including through the use of TVWS technology,” wrote Warner. “An innovative, ‘all-the-above’ approach to eliminating broadband gaps has never been more vital.”

At the time the NPRM was issued, NAB shared a statement saying that the proposed rules represented a consensus-based approach to updating the rules, and also hoped that the FCC would move quickly.