When the transition to digital TV is completed in February 2009, broadcasters will retain channels 2 to 51, but will actually be using less than half of that spectrum to broadcast over-the-air DTV signals. Local TV stations will be separated by empty channels, known as “white space” – underutilized spectrum that new “smart radio” technologies can use for productive activities, including wireless broadband, without interfering with television reception. DARPA and other wireless innovators have already developed far more advanced systems that can detect unoccupied frequencies across the spectrum and operate in these white spaces without disturbing licensed services.
If the FCC opens up unused spectrum white space for unlicensed access – just as devices like garage door openers, baby monitors, and home wi-fi devices can do now – the result would be a proliferation of technological innovation, including new broadband wireless applications. Yet broadcasters seek to lock up this unused spectrum and in so doing, seek to limit innovation and consumer choice. Pending legislation in Congress would require the FCC to allocate this unused spectrum to unlicensed, “open innovation” uses.
Please join ITIF and the New America Foundation for a discussion of the white space issue, with a particular focus on how emerging technologies can open up spectrum white spaces to unlicensed devices and thereby spur a new round of digital innovation.