White Spaces Plan Draws Cheers, Critics

Forty-two members of the U.S. House told the FCC Monday they support Microsoft’s plan to use TV white spaces to help deploy broadband in rural America. Readers may recall the proposal the tech giant unveiled last month calls for using a combination of the unlicensed frequencies between TV channels, fixed wireless and satellite to close the broadband gap for what Microsoft estimates to be between $8 to $12 billion.

The bipartisan mix of lawmakers, led by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), urges the FCC to preserve three white space channels in every market, saying FCC testing of TV white spaces shows they’re “a viable and cost-effective way to make access to broadband available in extremely remote areas where there isn’t a WiFi connection readily available due to buildings, hilly or mountainous terrain, or general lack of population.The nine-mile range of TV white spaces makes internet connections “extremely cost-effective, requiring minimal infrastructure investments,” writes Cramer.

A former utility regulator, Cramer says he understands the high costs of deploying high-speed broadband in rural areas. “It’s a process that requires unbelievable amounts of capital and takes years to recoup the costs for rural broadband providers.”

NAB opposes the proposal, saying if Microsoft wanted the spectrum, the firm should have bid on it in the recent incentive auction; the broadcast lobby also calls this proposal a way in the back door to obtain TV spectrum with better terms than auction participants. Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate writes in an Op-Ed for The Hill, broadcasters are legitimately concerned because, if adopted, the proposal “would remove another channel that has been explicitly designed to deliver local television signals. If Microsoft gets its way, a television station or translator will likely be left without a landing slot on the TV dial [following the repack] and forced off the air forever in many markets throughout the country.”

August 1, 2017                   

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