Free Internet Proposed for Vacated Spectrum


Microsoft has joined the fray in the battle for new uses of
spectrum scheduled to be vacated by analog television signals in 2009. Microsoft
wants to use the vacated airwaves, known as white space, to provide free high
speed internet access to people not on networks owned by wireless providers like
Verizon, ATT and Sprint. TV-spectrum-based Internet service has the potential
to be less expensive and more accessible than current phone and fiber-optic
lines, particularly in rural areas, which would force other high-speed Web
service providers to lower their prices. Plans similar to Microsoft’s proposed
method have been supported by Google, among others.


The FCC rejected Microsoft’s initial attempt to harness the
white space as defective. The FCC ruled that Microsoft’s processes interfered
with TV signals or could not detect such signals to avoid interference.
Microsoft says that the problems have now been resolved and is appealing the
FCC’s decision.


The battle for the free-airwave-provided Internet access
plan has the potential to become inense. Wireless providers, who depend more
and more on the revenues of their data networks, have a lot to lose if the
Microsoft/Google proposal is implemented. On the other hand, consumers and a
broader range of information services have much to gain if the white space
proposal is successful.


Bottom Line: The
proposal has substantial potential benefits. Even before a decision on
availability is made, however, the technology must be widely accessible,
virtually fail-proof, and highly interoperable. Microsoft, in particular, had
not been an industry leader as to any of those elements in its past business
practices with Internet Explorer, Windows and productivity software. It will
have to change its stripes if it wants its proposal to pick up steam.


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