In the most recent podcast, Jim Harper and I had a little back-and-forth about the idea of a commons model for spectrum. I made the point that while I was hopeful for the future, technology that makes spectrum scarcity a thing of the past (thus allowing a commons to work) isn’t quite here yet. Regulating based on theoretical technology, I said, doesn’t bode well for the here and now. Well, today comes word that the FCC has rejected the mystery whitespace devices that Google, Microsoft, and others in a consortium pushing for commons treatment of parts of the 700 MHz, had offered for testing. A year ago, the New America Foundation put out a paper called “Why Unlicensed Use of Vacant TV Spectrum Will Not Interfere with Television Reception.” According to The Washington Post today,
I really hope they succeed because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with allowing free use of true whitespaces or commons as long as the technology really works and use truly doesn’t cause interference to an adjacent licenses holder. That said, we can’t devalue otherwise useful spectrum by allocating it as a commons until we know the tech works.
After four months of testing, the agency concluded that the devices either interfered with TV signals or could not detect them in order to skirt them. Now the coalition of companies backing the devices, which includes Dell, Intel, EarthLink, Hewlett-Packard and Philips, is going back to the drawing board, possibly to redesign the devices and meet with FCC engineers to explore other options. The FCC said Tuesday that it would continue experimenting with such devices, which use vacant TV frequencies.