Following a previous visit to D.C. earlier this year, Google co-founder Larry Page hit Capitol Hill today with a simple message to the Federal Communications Commission: after five years of testing and discussion, it is time to free the vacant "white spaces" spectrum for affordable, nationwide high-speed wireless Internet connectivity.
With the FCC likely to release its report on the field testing process shortly, Larry called on the FCC to issue a final order regarding the vacant spectrum by election day in early November. And, he noted, it's not just technology companies like Google, Microsoft and Dell who care about putting the unused spectrum to use for broadband. Larry announced that as of this week, more than 16,000 citizens have sent petitions to the FCC through Free The Airwaves, our campaign to bring Internet users together around this important issue (if you haven't yet signed the petition, I hope that you'll join us in sending a clear message to the FCC).
Facing a room full of congressional staff as well as demonstrations from companies like Motorola and Shared Spectrum Company, Larry highlighted the tremendous potential that this spectrum holds for improving communications and boosting our economy. This spectrum, which can cover vast distances, could be used to connect underserved rural and urban communities to the Internet, at perhaps a tenth of the cost of today's municipal wi-fi projects. Additionally, the FCC could unleash considerable economic activity -- both in R&D as well as greater broadband connectivity -- by allowing innovaters to tap this underutilized resource.
Finally, Larry addressed the ways in which TV broadcasters and wireless microphone companies have unfortunately injected politics into the FCC's testing process, referring to August tests at FedEx Field just outside of D.C. and at the Majestic Theater in New York City. Those tests were intended to assess whether white space device prototypes could sense the presence of wireless microphone signals. However actions suggest that wireless microphone operators actually transmitted not on their normal channels but instead on channels occupied by TV broadcast signals. For instance during the Fed Ex Field test, wireless microphones were improperly used on the very station that carried the broadcast of the game. As a result, the white spaces devices naturally could not detect the microphone signals, as they were hidden by the much more powerful TV signals. The White Spaces Coalition, of which Google is a member, offered a filing with the FCC in late August pointing out what had happened in the test.
The time for discussion and testing is coming to a close, and the time for action is now.