Don’t auction off empty TV airwaves, SXSW activists tell FCC

Source: Ars Technica
Author: Timothy Lee
Coverage Type: reporting
Austin, TX, United States

Activists at the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin built a free wireless network to help publicize the power of unlicensed "white spaces" technology.

The project is part of a broader campaign to persuade the FCC not to auction off this spectrum for the exclusive use of wireless carriers. Almost everyone agrees that until recently, the spectrum allocated for broadcasting television channels was used inefficiently. In less populous areas, many channels sat idle. And channels were surrounded by "guard bands" to prevent adjacent channels from interfering with each other. A coalition that includes technology companies such as Google and Microsoft and think tanks such as the New America Foundation has been lobbying the FCC to open this unused spectrum up to third parties. The proposal initially faced fierce opposition from broadcasters, but they dropped their opposition after reaching a compromise with the FCC last year. As a result, the FCC recently opened up white space frequencies to unlicensed uses.

Now debate has shifted to a new question: whether to auction off some of these white space frequencies for the exclusive use of private wireless companies. Supporters of the auction approach argue that incumbent wireless providers could use the spectrum to improve their networks. And they point out that the auctions would generate much-needed cash for the federal treasury. But advocates of unlicensed uses say the spectrum will generate more value if the FCC leaves it open for unlicensed uses. They point to the success of Wi-Fi, which is now embedded in billions of electronic devices and allows people to communicate wirelessly without subscribing to a wireless service. Enter the "We ♥ WiFi" project. Austin has 14 vacant television channels that are now open for use by white space devices. So during this weekend's South by Southwest Interactive confab, activists set up a wireless network designed to showcase their potential.



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