Friday, September 05, 2008

Opening Up Wireless Internet?

Google, the ubiquitous internet search engine, has teamed up with several industry groups and non-profit media organizations–including the Wireless Innovation Alliance and Free Press–to press Congress to free up more of the wireless spectrum for wireless internet projects.

The spectrum in question, referred to as "white space" as it goes unused, resides alongside the spectrum used to broadcast television signals, specifically around channles 2 and 54. The new devices built to take advantage of this "white space" would transmit and receive on the unused portion of the spectrum. There are several ideas on how to do this effectively, either a central database the device would consult based on its location, or a more autonomous version in which the device determines which spectrum is clear on its own-most likely in the future.

Traditionally the Federal Communications Commission auctions off spectrum to the highest bidder. Thus, Verizon has a chunk, AT&T has a slice and so on.

Google and its partners want the spectrum to be released to the public as an "open" spectrum, meaning no one company controls the spectrum and all devices using the spectrum, such as WiFi devices, would be based on a standardized but open, non-proprietary platform.

The National Association of Broadcasters have expressed concern that allowing unfettered use of the spectrum would interfere with their broadcasts. Those in favor of opening up the spectrum, however, counter that the technology has been shown to work. Devices are still under development.

The concept of open access to a public resource like the electromagnetic spectrum is appealing. Expanding access will allow small developers to have the same access the multi-billion dollar companies–including Google and their fellow Alliance partners Dell and Microsoft.

In the past, allowing anyone unfettered ability to broadcast would wreak havoc on the ability to use the spectrum effectively. New technology, however, will allow more options to be squeezed out of the limited available spectrum.

A well designed system could allow greater access for individuals and small groups to the broadcast spectrum, creating a less hierarchical structure more akin to the internet and perhaps sparking a new explosion of innovation and growth.

For more on the Google plan, read Joel Johnson of's article on the proposal.

More: Google's advocacy website including a petition to lobby Congress and videos from internet users. Free Press's website on opening internet access.

- Murphy

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