FCC Chairman Pai Proposes to Update Wireless Rules to Connect Rural AmericaFebruary 5, 2020
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he would circulate a set of proposed updates to the rules governing use of the “TV white spaces” (TVWS), portions of the broadcast television band (channels 2-35) not currently being used for authorized services. Unlike cell phones, anyone can market devices using unlicensed white spaces spectrum. TV white spaces are uniquely suited for rural broadband use because the signal travels farther than existing unlicensed frequencies, and can penetrate leaves and other obstacles in sparsely populated rural areas. Companies such as Microsoft have made TVWS devices an integral part of their “airband initiative” to bring broadband to rural America.
To protect existing television operations, TVWS devices operate at extremely low power, even in sparsely populated rural areas with few licensed television broadcasters to protect. The proposed rule changes will allow devices in rural areas to operate at higher power, making it easier to use TVWS for rural broadband, still without interfering with licensed operations.
The item must be approved by a majority of the FCC five-member commission. The public will then have the opportunity to comment on these proposals. It will require a second vote of the FCC to make the changes law. Public Knowledge has long advocated that existing FCC rules do not allow TVWS to achieve its full potential, and welcomes the Chairman’s proposal to update the rules.
The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“Despite enormous leaps in wireless technology and dramatic changes to the broadcast band as a result of the 2016 spectrum auction, the TVWS rules have remained stuck in the past. Depending on the language of the proposal, Chairman Pai’s proposed changes could allow thousands of wireless internet service providers in rural America to provide real broadband access to their communities. We look forward to working with the Commission to modernize the TVWS rules as part of our national 5G strategy.”