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US: Freeing Up Spectrum for Rural Broadband

Source: Business Week

On Jan. 26, Wilmington, N.C., rolled out a wireless network that links security cameras and offers Internet access in public parks. No biggie. Networked cameras and free Internet are common. What’s different in Wilmington is the radio bands the network runs on: unused television channels known as “white spaces” that separate stations.

The Wilmington experiment shows the potential benefit of a measure tucked into the payroll tax cut law signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 22. The Federal Communications Commission created the white spaces between channels decades ago to prevent stations from interfering with each other, ensuring that, say, The Cosby Show in Washington wasn’t compromised by The Simpsonson the same frequency in Baltimore. The new law opens up the white space channels for “unlicensed” use.

Unlike the spectrum controlled by carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which is reserved for specified companies, unlicensed bandwidth is open to any user with an approved device. Wi-Fi, microwave ovens, baby monitors, and cordless phones all use frequencies that the industry calls the “junk band.” These radio waves can’t easily penetrate walls and are hard to maintain over long distances. The TV frequencies where the white space is located, by contrast, carry long distances and remain strong even inside buildings.[more]