TV White Spaces: On the Verge of Realizing its Broadband Potential

Posted by Paula Boyd
Regulatory Affairs Counsel


On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took an important step in making innovative wireless broadband services, devices and applications available to consumers. The Commissioners are now in the process of finalizing policies that will allow the vacant channels in the television bands (the so-called “TV white spaces”) to be used for wireless broadband.

What are TV white spaces? In markets around the country, broadcasters use some—but not all—of the available channels to provide over-the-air television. Today, technology can make use of the unused channels, the TV white spaces, to provide wireless broadband connectivity while ensuring that there is no harmful interference to current users of the band. TV white spaces are particularly valuable since signals in this spectrum range are better able to penetrate walls and trees, and also to cover greater distances: two to three times further than the spectrum that is currently used for Wi-Fi. This means more reliable, higher-bandwidth wireless broadband connectivity and the potential to unleash exciting new user products and scenarios. It also has the potential to lower costs for consumers since the better range offered by white spaces enables a service provider to cover a greater service area with less equipment.

What can consumers do with TV white spaces? Consumers are increasingly demanding their content and information wherever they are. TV white spaces can help meet that need. If the FCC adopts the right policy framework interesting user experiences can emerge. TV white spaces can facilitate the emerging “Internet of Things” in which devices in the home and office share data more seamlessly. It can expand broadband connectivity by helping to realize the potential of neighborhood and campus broadband networks and creating opportunities for broadband connectivity in rural areas. It can also facilitate applications such as “smart cities,” enabling municipalities to manage traffic, water and conduct government-related services.

Microsoft has been working on technology to make use of TV white spaces for almost seven years. You can learn more about what Microsoft is doing and how it can help consumers in this video.

In its National Broadband Plan, the FCC highlighted the importance of finding more radio spectrum to meet our growing wireless broadband needs and compete effectively with the rest of the world. By moving quickly to adopt the right policy framework, the FCC can spur investment in the white spaces, and consumers can realize increasingly innovative broadband experiences.