While the move was promoted by Google, Microsoft, and Motorola and hailed by consumer groups, opponents warn that problems still lurk with the technology.
In unanimously approving the use of TV white-spaces spectrum for unlicensed public usage, the FCC has spelled out the safeguards it will require before devices can be used.
The FCC said all devices must be tested in its laboratories and in real-world environments "to ensure they do not cause interference to licensed services when in use." Spearheaded by Google, Microsoft, and Motorola, the flexible use of the white-spaces spectrum could pave the way for more widespread use of broadband communications, particularly in rural areas, which traditionally have lagged in broadband access.
While the affirmative vote Tuesday was widely hailed by consumer groups, opponents warned that problems still lurk in the technology.
Audio electronics provider Shure Inc., which vigorously campaigned against the use of white spaces, said it remains concerned that the FCC vote could lead to "a new breed of wireless gadgetry that relies on unproven technology." In addition, Shure said it was concerned that the FCC did not reserve enough channels for the operation of wireless microphone equipment.
Sandy LaMantia, Shure's president and CEO, said the company already has been hard at work to develop technical programs that will enable the use of its equipment in what promises to be a more complicated interference environment. "While we have several options regarding our next steps, Shure's first obligation is to its customers," LaMantia said in a statement.
While no timetables have been announced, Microsoft executives have estimated that no devices will likely appear on the market for at least a year. Microsoft plans to offer software for the white spaces gear, and the issue was important enough for the software vendor's co-founder, Bill Gates, to personally lobby the FCC in support of the use of the spectrum.
In approving the measure, the FCC said it will promulgate rules to allow for both fixed and portable unlicensed devices. The devices will be required to contain geolocation and certain Internet database access capability as well as to contain spectrum-sensing technology.
"Wireless microphones will be protected in a variety of ways," the FCC release stated. "The locations where wireless microphones are used, such as sporting venues and event and production facilities, can be registered in the database and will be protected in the same way as other services." The FCC added that it will "closely oversee and monitor" use of the devices.
A large group of entertainment, sports, and businesses figures had sounded the alarm that the use of the white spaces could interfere with their events. These ranged from entertainer Dolly Parton and the American Federation of Musicians to the NFL and Nascar.
The proposal was vigorously promoted by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has advocated to make broadband accessible to more Americans.
The FCC said it will conduct another proceeding to determine whether certain high-powered unlicensed operations could be permitted in TV white spaces in rural areas.