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Microsoft Takes Up the White Spaces Flag

Randy Sukow Jul 6, 2017

With the incentive auction of former broadcast TV spectrum (600 MHz) completed, advocates of unlicensed broadband service over the TV white spaces – unused TV channels – have been seeking to revive the issue, which has been dormant for years. Microsoft has been the most vocal advocate in recent weeks, holding multiple meetings with FCC commissioners and staff. The company has put the emphasis on how white spaces could be the answer to delivering broadband to rural areas.

“Microsoft’s research and community deployments have shown that white spaces technology is a very effective tool for expanding existing broadband networks into unserved or underserved communities,” Microsoft said in an ex parte letter, referring to the propagation characteristics of low-frequency spectrum. “As a result, with white spaces technologies, providers can expand their networks to serve communities where existing technologies are economically impractical to deploy.”

In its meetings, Microsoft calls for the Commission to ensure that there are three channels available for broadband in each TV market at the completion of the current post-auction spectrum repacking process. It also advocates making one of those channels the same in all markets nationwide, providing those designing chips for future broadband devices a basis for commonality. In fact, Microsoft said that there is no reason why the FCC could not designate a single white spaces channel immediately without waiting for the end of repacking.

TV translator stations, which extend network affiliate signals into remote markets are an important aspect of delivering video to rural areas. Some broadcasters worry that the FCC might have to eliminate translators and low-power TV stations in some areas during the repacking. In one of its meetings, Microsoft offered a study showing that reserving a specific national white spaces channel would have no effect in in most markets and “de minimus” effect in a handful of markets.

“Because the proposal is critical to advancing wireless broadband and would have no or minimal impact on broadcasters the FCC should adopt it now to promote regulatory certainty and investment,” Microsoft said.

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