White spaces are the unused spectrum between television signals that essentially act as a buffer between channels. Companies like Microsoft, Google, and Intel have said there is massive potential to use this spectrum in an unlicensed way to provide cheap, long-range broadband connectivity. The FCC's database will identify what spectrum is usable in each market, and this information will be critical for device makers hoping to utilize white spaces.
The federal agency also said the private sector will be able to create a TV band database that can provide similar spectrum information. This privately run operation will be able to charge for incumbent operators to block off certain spectrum, as well as for fixed TV band devices.
There is still uncertainty about how effective white-space devices will be. Advocates say they could help provide low-cost broadband to rural communities, and the devices and services that utilize the spectrum will generate billions for the economy. The unlicensed use of white spaces has been long opposed by broadcasters, telecoms, wireless microphone companies, and various performance groups due to concerns about interference with nearby spectrum. The National Association of Broadcasters has even sued the FCC over interference concerns.
Microsoft has said companies will be able to effectively implement technologies that allow devices to detect which spectrum is being used in a given market, and adjust accordingly. The FCC is requiring white-space devices to include geo-location capabilities and the ability to access the databases that identify incumbent users entitled to interference protection.