Google Urges FCC to Open Up TV 'White Space' to Wireless Internet

Less than a week after losing in the latest U.S. spectrum auction, Google Inc. has started pitching its plan to use TV "white space" — unlicensed and unused airwaves — to provide wireless Internet.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission released by Google on Monday, the Internet search giant pressed the government to open up the white space for unlicensed use in hopes of enabling more widespread, affordable Internet access over the airwaves.

"As Google has pointed out previously, the vast majority of viable spectrum in this country simply goes unused, or else is grossly underutilized," Richard Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media lawyer, wrote in the letter. "Unlike other natural resources, there is no benefit to allowing this spectrum to lie fallow."

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Google said the white space, located between channels 2 and 51 on TV sets that aren't hooked up to satellite or cable services, offer a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans."

In addition, opening up the spectrum would "enable much-needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers," Whitt wrote.

It was not the first time that Google has urged the FCC to open up television white space, but the Internet company's public letter, sent Friday, was notable given Google's involvement in the just-ended 700MHz wireless spectrum auction.

Google was outbid by Verizon Wireless, but the Internet company had already convinced the FCC to require the winner of a specific portion of the spectrum to allow subscribers to use any compatible wireless device they want.

Google is also developing mobile phone software, known as Android, that several device makers are using to power their upcoming handsets.

Google is betting that it can boost its online advertising business by making it easier for mobile consumers to get access to the Internet on their mobile phones.

TV broadcasters oppose use of white space, fearing such usage would cause interference with television programming and could cause problems with a federally mandated transition from analog to digital broadcasting signals next year.

But Google in its letter urged the FCC to adopt a series of overlapping technologies, including "spectrum sensing," designed to prevent signals from interfering with each other.

Whitt said Google was not advocating any specific business model to develop the white space. He said there was enough unused spectrum for businesses to create a wide range of options, such as building small peer-to-peer networks or even establishing an alternative national wireless carrier.

Whitt said he did not expect any changes to the status quo until after the United States shifts from analog broadcasting to digital TV in February 2009. He said consumer devices compatible with white-space spectrum could be on the market as early as late 2009.