Mobile Sands

March 18, 2009

An alternate way to use TV band spectrum

Filed under: white space — AJ @ 10:19 pm

In the past, I have argued that FCC’s proposed rules for TV band white spaces make this spectrum unattractive for launching either wide area broadband services or local-area data/video services.  Limiting transmit power to 4W dilutes the coverage benefit of operating in 600 MHz (UHF) spectrum. Requiring CPEs to determine their location and connect to a central database makes CPEs expensive and difficult to install. The FCC is placing these requirements to ensure that white space devices can co-exist with terrestrial TV and all other existing services in these bands. Though these problems can be overcome with significant investment, the unlicensed nature of this spectrum weakens the business case to make such investment, especially since unlicensed spectrum with fewer strings attached is available. Bottomline – it will be years before TV band spectrum will be productively used.

All this raises the question – shouldn’t there be a better way to utilize this valuable radio spectrum? This afternoon, I was listening to a podcast on EconTalk with Thomas Hazlett – Professor at George Mason University and Chief Economist of the FCC from 1991-92, with stints at several other universities in between. Professor Hazlett argued (convincingly, in my opinion) that the FCC should pay all terrestrial TV stations to migrate to a free-to-air satellite system, give free satellite dishes to the 30 million or so Americans who still watch terrestrial TV, and auction the almost 300 MHz of spectrum that will be opened up.  Auctioning ~300 MHz of spectrum in the the 400-700 MHz band will more than cover the cost of the TV transition. If you decide to listen to the podcast, the discussion on spectrum starts after 44 minutes.

Just imagine the kind of wireless broadband services that could be deployed if ~300 MHz of spectrum in low frequency bands was made available. It would make wireless broadband a credible competitor to cable and fiber in the last mile, increasing consumer choice and lowering prices.  I am surprised that groups like the Wireless Innovation Alliance are not pushing for something as radical as this rather than unlicensed use of TV band white spaces.

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