Mysteries explained: What's going to happen with all the old, vacant TV channels?

When over-the-air TV switched to a digital format, full-power television stations in the US moved their broadcast signals to a different spot on the frequency spectrum. The switch leaves a large amount of space on the airwaves available for alternative technology uses, including new broadband services such as cellphone video, and affordable, high-speed wireless internet for rural areas.

A bunch of this newly available frequency spectrum was auctioned off by the federal government in 2008, raising about $19.5 billion. Successful bidders included telecommunications providers Verizon, Qualcomm, CenturyTel, AT&T Mobility Spectrum, and a host of smaller companies.

Part of the spectrum will be reserved for enhancing public safety and emergency services communications.

Another section will be reserved as "white spaces," and will be made available for unlicensed wireless broadband communications. This use is expected to greatly benefit rural communities, as new broadband devices and services become available, capable of sending high-speed broadband signals across long distances.

The FCC's Dec. 2008 decision to allow unlicensed broadband use of white spaces was somewhat controversial, because some wireless microphone setups and medical telemetry systems are already using these frequencies.. However, the FCC determined that, with appropriate safeguards to avoid interference, the potential benefits of broadband accessibility were too great to pass up.

MORE INFORMATION:

2008 spectrum auction (Wikipedia)
Rural broadband and white spaces
Citizen's Guide to the Airwaves (New America Foundation)
The Art of Spectrum Lobbying by Jim Snider (pdf)

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