The fate of an important chunk of wireless spectrum in the U.S. is being decided by the FCC, and Google wants to rally public support for turning this spectrum over to unlicensed uses, just like we do today with WiFi. The spectrum in question is the “white spaces” in the analog TV broadcast signal that will no longer be needed once all TV broadcasters shift to digital signals. The white spaces could form the basis for WiFi 2.0, a longer-range wireless technology that wouldn’t be owned by any one company.
Before that can happen, though, Google and other proponents of WiFi 2.0 must prove that they can get around some of the interference issues that may result if the spectrum in question is turned over to unlicensed use. So the FCC has been running some field tests to see what the impact may be. (The results so far are inconclusive). The biggest complainers are companies that make wireless microphones for live events such as concerts and football games.
Google doesn’t want to lose this policy debate to its opponents, who are positioning the proposal as something that will not only interfere with existing licensed wireless devices (something nobody really cares about), but will interfere with the officiating of football games. In other words, it would interfere with America itself.
Well, Google is having none of it. And it’s fighting back with something equally American: YouTube. In a direct appeal to geeks everywhere, it is urging people to upload their own video testimonials to YouTube to show their support for “Free The Airwaves.”
I’m not sure how much good this campaign will do, but there is much to be said about the benefits of creating a new swath of unlicensed spectrum. Look at the success of WiFi, a technology with its own interference issues that is now a basic part of our everyday lives. WiFi has expanded the Internet beyond the reach of an Ethernet cable. WiFi 2.0 could expand it beyond the office or the home. It’s a good idea, and in the grand scheme of things would create a greater public good than any harm it would cause.
And it’s really not an either/or choice anyway. You can have both your wireless referee mics and your Wifi 2.0 because you can always block the unlicensed use in stadiums and other areas.
Here’s Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll explaining what is at stake here: