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FCC approves 'white spaces' for unlicensed mobile broadband

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved the used of unlicensed broadcast airwaves known as "white spaces" that the agency hopes will amount to better quality and longer-range Wi-Fi-like connections for mobile devices.

In a unanimous vote, the five-member FCC said the airwaves -- unused channels between TV stations -- will be used for mobile broadband services. Google and Microsoft are among companies that have advocated for that use of spectrum. Performers on Broadway and Nashville have expressed concern, along with broadcasters, that using those channels could cause interference for TV channels and wireless microphones.

The FCC's order would allow for two channels in some areas to be reserved for the use of wireless microphones to address concerns of interference. New devices would have to meet technological standards set by the FCC that would prevent interference of broadcast shows.

"We haven"t seen anything like this since the FCC 20 years ago approved the use of what was then thought to be unwanted spectrum and what today is used for Wi-Fi, and other unlicensed consumer applications," said Harold Feld, the legal director for media reform group Public Knowledge. "Companies are eager to build devices and deploy the technologies. The FCC's action is a clear signal to go ahead and get started constructing an exciting part of our future."

The order was approved two years ago under former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. That policy was challenged in court by broadcasters because of concerns of interferences. The new order approved Thursday addresses some technical concerns raised by those early opponents.

By Cecilia Kang  | September 23, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  FCC  
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