White Spaces Could Help Provide More Affordable Internet

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Student Researchers: Melissa Bock, Morgan Burke, Anne Geiler, Katie McCartin, Scott O’Neil, Ava Roebuck

Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley

Evaluator: Douglas Harms, Ph. D., Professor of Computer Science, DePauw University

White spaces, which are the segments of the public airwaves between television channels that go unused, could be key in providing high-speed, more affordable cellular and internet services, according to community media, public interest, and immigrant rights advocates in New York City.  These advocates are currently pushing the New York City Council to endorse a new type of “white space” technology that they claim would lower the costs of these services, helping to boost the economy.

On November 4, 2008, the FCC unanimously voted to authorize the use of white spaces, but FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had ensured that any company wishing to manufacture devices that could use white space technology will have to go through a “rigorous certification process.”  He also stated that FCC engineers have already been in the process of determining whether use of the white spaces will interfere with other broadcasts and microphones.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), though, questions the FCC reports, and NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton suggests that the FCC is misinterpreting data from their own engineers.  NAB has found that the FCC’s summary of their results do not actually reflect the actual test findings.  For example, during the tests, one Microsoft prototype malfunctioned to the point it could no longer be used.  Furthermore, many devices would detect open channels that could potentially be accessed, while others would find none.

According to the policy director of People’s Production House, Joshua Breitbart, opening the white spaces would not cost any money, but instead save money compared to what people are currently paying for internet access and cell phone service.  Another advantage, says Abdulai Bah, a representative of Nah We Yone, a community advocate group for New York’s African refuges, would be that, white spaces would provide a cheaper means of communication for immigrants trying to contact their families back home.

However lobbyists from wireless microphone companies and cell phone carriers, as well as the National Association of Broadcasters, are trying to put a stop to the idea that white spaces could be used for high-speed broadband service, launching a misinformation campaign.  But according to the campaign director of Free Press, Timothy Karr, many of the decision-makers have not fully investigate white spaces technology and instead base their information on what they hear from lobbyists, which he feels is lies and spin.

“FCC Approves Use of ‘White Spaces’ Spectrum”  John Letzing, MarketWatch.  11/4/08 https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fcc-approves-use-of-white-spaces-spectrum

“FCC White Space Report Reveals Curious Discrepancies” NAB.  10/16/08 https://www.nab.org/documents/newsroom/pressRelease.asp?id=1680

“Groups Call on NYC to Open Public Airwaves to New Technology”  freepress. 9/18/08 http://www.freepress.net/node/44674