FCC moves forward on unlicensed "white spaces"

Well, here’s a pleasant surprise. The FCC has adopted an order (news release PDF) moving forward the process of opening up unlicensed wireless “white spaces” around the broadcast TV bands.

This is potentially a big deal. More wireless capacity at low frequencies for unlicensed devices is the last, best hope to overcome the current broadband bottleneck and catalyze a whole range of new communications applications. It will be several years before the technical work is completed and actual devices come on the market — 2012 would be a rough guess. So, don’t expect any impact in the near term. Over the long haul, though, this could be big news for communications users and innovators.

The proceeding seemed to be stalled after Kevin Martin took over from Michael Powell as FCC Chairman. I didn’t think Martin would expend the necessary political capital with the broadcasters to keep it going. The fact that he did seems to be a testament to the efforts of a small group of companies, led by Intel and Microsoft, pushing the idea, along with public interest groups such as the New America Foundation. It also reflects the changing political calculus of the digital TV transition, now nearing its endgame, and, perhaps, some realization by the broadcasters that in a world where YouTube is worth $1.6 billion, the value of scarce over-the-air broadcast licenses is diminishing.