The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to open up the unlicensed radio spectrum known as "white spaces" for public use. The move drew praise from public interest groups and technology companies eager to experiment with the newly free spectrum.
"Today we open a new platform for American innovation," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The newly opened spectrum -- which is unlicensed and available for anyone to use -- is considered valuable because it can travel longer than WiFi and penetrate structures, and has been dubbed "WiFi on steroids" or "Super-WiFi."
Genachowski said the move will lead to billions of dollars in private investment. Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Motorola (MOT) and Nokia (NOK) are among the companies that have advocated opening up the spectrum
Microsoft, for example, has already set up two towers using the spectrum that it says cover its entire 500-acre Redmond, Wash., campus. (Thousands of WiFi routers would be needed to cover the same area.) "Opening this beachfront spectrum for unlicensed use by any individual, entrepreneur or Internet service provider will unleash innovation and promote pervasive connectivity, particularly in underserved communities," said Michael Calabrese, senior research fellow, Open Technology Initiative and an original proponent of reallocating TV white space.
Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley said: "Today's decision was a positive -- albeit long overdue -- step forward on white spaces, and Free Press is pleased with the FCC's decision, which will allow innovators to continue to develop technology capable of using the white spaces spectrum between television channels.