• United States

Television channels to deliver Internet access

May 24, 20043 mins
Cellular NetworksGovernmentNetwork Security

* FCC proposal to allow unused TV spectrum to go to wireless

Forget channel surfing – don’t touch that dial!  If the Federal Communications Commission has its way, you might be logging on to the Internet wirelessly via television channels soon.

The FCC recently proposed to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the broadcast television spectrum at locations where the spectrum is not in use by television.  This could help to bring broadband services to areas that are unserved or underserved by communication technologies such as cable or DSL.

The broadcast spectrum ranges under review include areas below 900 MHz and in the 3 GHz band.  Signals broadcast in the range below 900 MHz can easily penetrate obstructions such as walls and trees, making this a highly desirable means for wireless Internet connections.

“We continue to examine ways to advance broadband deployment and further the goal of universal access,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell says.  “This technology has the potential to provide greater access to the American public.  It promises to dramatically increase the availability and quality of wireless Internet connections – the equivalent of doubling the number of lanes on a congested highway.”

Television broadcasters aren’t so quick to agree, however.  Naturally, they are concerned with any interference of television broadcasts.  Given that television networks have paid huge sums of money for the rights to broadcast on specific spectrums, their concerns are of high interest to the FCC as well.  Thus, any implementation of wireless access on the television spectrum would include smart radio features to avoid any interference and to protect incumbent television service.

The proposal includes the classification of the unlicensed broadband devices into two general categories.  The first category includes lower power “personal/portable” devices such as Wi-Fi cards in laptop PCs or wireless LANs in the home.  The second category is more of a commercial nature, consisting of higher power “fixed/access” unlicensed devices that are generally operated from a fixed location.  This could include, for example, a commercial service such as wireless broadband Internet access.  Both classes of services would be required to implement technologies that ensure they only operate on unused television channels.

Intel, with its big push for mobile computing as well as “the digital home,” is solidly behind the FCC’s proposal.  According to Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger, “Releasing this spectrum for unlicensed use will help foster new technologies, create opportunities for business, and bring exciting new products to consumers.”

While the IT industry is quite excited at the prospect of a new source of broadband capacity, there is some apprehension among several of the FCC commissioners.  Jonathan Adelstein, for one, calls the proposal “worrisome” in its timing.  The American television industry is in the midst of a transition to digital television.  TV stations have been allocated new channels to transmit their new digital signals, even as they operate old channels to broadcast their analog signals.  Once the transition to digital broadcasting is complete – sometime in the next few years – the old analog channels should be opened up for other use. 

Commissioner Adelstein and his colleague Kevin Martin are concerned that the wireless broadcasting proposal could be distracting to TV broadcasters when they are under the gun to get digital TV fully implemented.  Still, they support the proposal to study unlicensed operations in unused TV bands. 

So for all you readers who complain about the quality of TV programming – “Five hundred channels and there’s nothing good on” – maybe someday soon you’ll be using a TV channel to access your favorite Web sites.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at