In the tech world, white space refers to the wireless spectrum that isn’t currently licensed by a company. You should be familiar with this mechanism as most of us use it on a daily basis. That wi-fi router that your smart phone, gaming system, or PC hooks into (wirelessly) to grab data off the Internet or those lasers you fired at an opponent transmit (in this example at 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz) using part of the white space spectrum.
White space frequencies are important; they have driven forward innovations across numerous products and services. A few examples would be wireless microphones, ye old wireless house phones, baby monitors, bluetooth devices, the free wi-fi in coffee shops that millions enjoy, or that automatic car starter that heats up a car on a cold winter day. They are important because those spaces are unregulated – i.e. they aren’t restricted for use by any one individual or company. White space, at its most basic, is public.
In 2009, Congress passed the law that pushed analog television into the digital spectrum. It was a messy affair, but it had a bolder plan of adding large swathes of white space spectrum. The innovations that could take place here are huge, with the most utilitarian being hi-speed broadband piped into businesses and homes where it is not feasible or easy to lay physical lines. We’re talking about connecting people and industry to the world via the Internet, which in turn opens up vast possibilities that couldn’t previously exist.
Again, we’re talking about something that is a boon to both the public and industry.
Sounds almost too altruistic, right? Welcome to H.R. 1622: Spectrum Innovation Act.
If you know anything about how bills are named, then you understand their contents are the exact opposite. A more appropriate name should be: How We Can Fuck The Public By Selling Off And Exclusively Licensing White Space To Mobile Carriers.
“Spectrum Innovation Act – Amends the Communications Act of 1934 to provide that, if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines that it is consistent with the public interest in spectrum utilization for a licensee to voluntarily relinquish licensed spectrum usage rights to permit the assignment of new initial licenses subject to new service rules, the proceeds from granting such rights to another licensee under an appropriate competitive bidding system must be shared (subject to the FCC retaining certain offsets and deposits for specified program qualification and implementation costs), in an amount or percentage that the FCC considers appropriate, with the licensee who voluntarily relinquished such rights. Directs the FCC to establish rules for such voluntary incentive auction revenue sharing. Prohibits the FCC from reclaiming frequencies of broadcast television licensees directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis for certain licensing purposes.”
Grabbing the hacksaw, let’s cut this down to understandable parts.
“if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines that it is consistent with the public interest in spectrum utilization for a licensee to voluntarily relinquish licensed spectrum usage rights to permit the assignment of new initial licenses subject to new service rules,”
Translation: FCC can take existing unlicensed white space spectrum or spectrum currently owned by broadcasters and allow it to be auctioned or awarded to a private company. Important point: the rules of usage on that white space will not be subject to existing standards.
What this means is private companies (read the guys with the most lobbyists) can have themselves awarded chunks of the airwaves to utilize and they get to make up the rules of how those airwaves can be used.
The major mobile phone carriers are expected to grab this spectrum quickly. They can then hold it in a basement as a hostage so that you have no option but to use their services. Moreover, the conventional wisdom is carriers will use this as the new backbone for Internet access; since they get to make the rules, they will have full control over content and speed without all that fuss of Net Neutrality that existing wired and wireless spectrum has to deal with.
Pretty fucked up right? Wait, it gets better!
“Prohibits the FCC from reclaiming frequencies of broadcast television licensees directly or indirectly on an involuntary basis for certain licensing purposes.”
This is a giant one finger salute from the broadcasting industry which is still fuming over the digital push of 2009. In this instance the FCC will lose any power to reallocate spectrum to white space. If this rule had been in place before 2009, the industry would still be sitting in its own analog pile of shit, refusing to move forward from a tech perspective. Now they are ensuring no one has the power to do that ever again.
This bill is written, from start to finish, with pure corporate interests in mind. There is no innovation to be found here. There is no public interest to be found here either. This is not something that makes life better, nor does it open up compelling future possibilities.
This is pure, unadulterated, ass-fuckery that further narrows the field to only those that have a few hundred million or billion to drop on licensed wireless spectrum. Enjoy your AT&T and Verizon mobile overlords (soon to be the only players left) and be sure to thank to Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) for pushing this bill out there for them.