On May 12, 2004, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing unlicensed use of unused TV channels 2-to-51 (Docket 04-186). When the DTV transition ends in early 2009, most of the nation’s 210 TV markets will have between 10 and 40 unassigned channels reserved for broadcasting, but not in use. The FCC proposal would allow a new generation of wireless broadband devices to utilize the vacant TV channels in each local market for WiFi and other unlicensed technologies.
Although incumbent TV broadcast license holders and their vendors opposed the NPRM, leading high-tech companies, including Intel and Microsoft, came out strongly in favor and submitted compelling technical evidence that unlicensed devices could be introduced into the unoccupied TV guard bands without causing harmful interference to TV reception on neighboring licensed channels. Although broadcast interests have succeeded in lobbying FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to stall a final FCC decision, there is increasing bipartisan interest in Congress in opening these wasted frequencies for unlicensed wireless networking. On February 17, 2006, Sen. Ted Stevens, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and a bipartisan foursome of Committee members (Sens. Allen, Sununu, Kerry and Boxer) introduced legislation ordering the FCC to complete the rulemaking and to open unused TV band spectrum for unlicensed devices. This would particularly benefit rural and small town areas where wired broadband is unavailable or unaffordable.
This summary of a longer Working Paper is structured in four sections, preceded by some brief background about why a majority of the DTV frequencies are unoccupied. Section I argues that the white space should be reallocated from broadcast to broadband use. Section II explains the technological and economic forces behind the shift from licensed to unlicensed use. Sections III and IV provides an overview of the economic and non-economic arguments for unlicensed use, respectively.
This document is available in both compact Issue Brief (12 pp.) and Working Paper (26 pp.) format. Please see the attached PDF files below.