US FCC approves rules allowing white-space devices

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to approve rules that would allow new broadband devices to operate in unused television spectrum.

The FCC voted on the rules governing the operation of new devices in the so-called spectrum white spaces over the objections of television broadcasters, wireless microphone makers, several sports leagues, and dozens of performing artists and U.S. lawmakers. The vote will allow more broadband competition in the U.S., with wireless devices competing with providers of cable broadband and DSL/fiber-based broadband, said Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.

"Today’s decision is consequential to our nation’s future because wireless broadband has the potential to improve our economy and quality of life in even the remotest areas," Adelstein said. "One of the best options for promoting broadband and competition across the country, particularly in rural areas, is maximizing the potential of spectrum-based services."

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) had run a hard-fought campaign against the white spaces proposal, saying two rounds of extensive testing by the FCC failed to prove that prototype broadband devices would avoid interfering with TV stations on neighboring channels.

The NAB promised to continue to fight against potential interference with TV stations. "While we appreciate the FCC's attempt to address significant issues raised by broadcasters and others, every American who values interference-free TV should be concerned by today's commission vote," said Dennis Wharton, NAB's executive vice president. "By moving the white-space vote forward, the commission appears to have bypassed meaningful public or peer review in a proceeding of grave importance to the future of television."

The white spaces are empty channels on spectrum designated for use by television stations, but wireless microphones also broadcast on the spectrum without FCC licenses. All U.S. television markets have some white-space spectrum, and several tech companies and public interest groups have pushed the FCC to approve white-space devices in recent years.