Advocates for the opening of the "white spaces" were rewarded with a resounding victory earlier this month when the FCC unanimously voted in favor of allowing unlicensed use of the unused spectrum between TV channels. (For a more complete explanation of white spaces, check out our earlier blog post.) While FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had telegraphed his support for white spaces at the conclusion of technical trials, the landslide vote opens doors for innovation and is a victory for the public over the entrenched media incumbents.
However, it's important to consider the remaining variables in play. The end goal is better wireless broadband access in America -- more Internet, in more places, at lower cost. While innovators have been given a significant green light by the FCC through this vote, there are other milestones to be met and obstacles to overcome: a possible legal challenge from the broadcasters, full implementation of spectrum avoidance technology, and FCC certification of consumer-ready devices. These will all have an effect on the amount of time it takes for white space devices to reach consumers.
Regardless, the FCC's unanimous approval is a major win for the public. It's easy to imagine the FCC playing it safe and succumbing to the incumbent broadcasters instead, closing the gates on improved wireless technology at the outset. But the current Commission's commitment to innovation, its investment in researching the technology, and the efforts of public interest groups and regular folks speaking out made the difference and is paving the way for a better future in wireless broadband.