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Summary:

Google is launching a new advocacy campaign, Free The Airwaves, an effort by the company to get some traction around white spaces.

Updated: Today, Google is launching a new advocacy campaign, Free The Airwaves, an effort by the company to get some traction around white spaces, the tiny slivers of spectrum that resides in the 700 MHz band spectrum vacated by analog television’s switch to digital transmissions. It even launched a lobbying web site, though the “supported by Google” text needs a magnifying glass to be found.

Google has been lobbying hard to get this spectrum unlicensed and make it open to all unlicensed devices. While no one is being more vocal about white spaces than Google, other backers of the white space idea include Intel, Microsoft and Motorola.

While I am all for more and easier broadband for the masses, I cannot miss the irony that a search-monopoly that is printing money wants to get access to more free spectrum so it can eventually start printing more money by getting more search traffic. I have long since stopped believing the “Google for good” mantra. At least the company admits as much. On the Google blog, Google’s Minnie Ingersoll, product manager, Alternative Access Team writes:

When it comes to opening these airwaves, we believe the public interest is clear. But we also want to be transparent about our involvement: Google has a clear business interest in expanding access to the web. There’s no doubt that if these airwaves are opened up to unlicensed use, more people will be using the Internet. That’s certainly good for Google (not to mention many of our industry peers) but we also think that it’s good for consumers.

Regardless, there are many questions facing the white space effort. First, the plan is meeting opposition from NAB and others, such as those who use wireless microphones. Cell-phone companies don’t like the idea either. Why? Because they all argue that the devices using these slivers of spectrum are going to cause interference with their devices and services. So far all tests to make it work haven’t worked out, and a lot needs to be done before it can become a reality. FCC is expected to announce its findings next month.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, with an eye on a political future, is backing this idea — after all, it can be a vote winner. In today’s Wall Street Journal Martin says, “Spectrum is very valuable and we want to make sure it’s being used as efficiently as possible…The idea of trying to utilize the ‘white spaces’ from a consumer perspective would be a good win for everyone.” In other words, Google’s lobbying efforts and Martin’s own political ambitions are going to push this through. However, there are certain doubts.

Update: I got on the conference call hosted by Google to talk about this new effort to get more details but walked away empty handed. A couple of points to note were that rhetoric coming out of Mountain View is going to rise in coming months around this issue, especially ahead of FCC’s decision next month. When I asked Google executives about the timeline of the networks rolling out to the public, I was handed an obfuscation. I am going to re-listen to the whole conference call, which I have taped again, and add more. On that note, anyone know what is the best way to share audio notes with readers?

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  1. Great explanation of both pros and cons here. By the way, the site actually features the Google’s copyright sign that is more visible than the “supported by Google” text.

    As for the petition itself, I think that they will be sure to get a huge number of votes on it but unfortunately for Google a petition is only a petition and FCC will take lots of things into account, not only how efficient Google is in promoting the idea.

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  2. [...] some folks like Om Malik are pointing a cynical eye at Google’s real intentions, I can’t see how opening the debate on this and other [...]

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  3. Hey Om,

    Whitespaces are actually NOT in the 700MHz band. That spectrum was auctioned off. Whitespaces are the vacant channels that exist in a given area in channels 2-51. Channels 52-69 are the “700MHz band”.

    After the DTV transition, this is the spectrum TV will occupy:

    Ch 2-4: 54-72MHz
    Ch 5-6: 76-88MHz
    Ch 7-13: 174-216MHz
    Ch 14-51: 470-698MHz

    Whitespaces could exist in any of this spectrum, but there’s technical debate as to if any of the VHF spectrum (channels 2-13) would be of high enough quality.

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  4. I find it fascinating how the term white space, implying wasted frequencies, is preferred over the term guard band even where the latter is (perhaps) still more applicable.

    I suppose technological advances will render most such interference limiting bands superfluous over time, but it is still an interesting choice of words.

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  5. @ Bill Dollar…. Eating crow and putting my foot in my mouth. Sorry for that obvious goof up and correcting me on this one. Again proof that our readers are smarter than me.

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  6. [...] them on, even though I don’t live in the U.S. and won’t get any conceivable benefit from the proposal. Why? Because I think that Internet access in general is a public good, and should be as widely [...]

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  7. Google is also placing their bets on WiMAX via their investment in the Clearwire venture.

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  8. “I have long since stopped believing the “Google for good” mantra.”

    Why? Is it because they generate money? I really loathe the entitlement mentality of those that despise companies that produce and provide simply because they make a profit while doing so. Some people act as though profit is evil, and all money should go to those who “need” it, as though the “needy” are somehow incapable of being producers themselves. Everyone struggles, and those that succeed should be rewarded for their efforts, not robbed, or discredited, or dishonored by self righteous complainers who feel their good intentions entitle them to a share.

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  9. [...] su enorme poder de lobby. Para balancear mi entusiasmo y darle un tono más objetivo aquí enlazo a una crítica que hace Om Malik a Google y aclaro que Google es mi socio en [...]

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  10. [...] “Google has a clear business interest in expanding access to the web” — some like Om and Cynthia are publicly doubtful that we’re getting the full picture of Google’s [...]

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  11. Johnson,

    It’s not about “profit being evil”. It’s about monopoly being evil. Countless examples in history suggest a single entity with too much power is ultimately not ideal for the consumers/masses. Google is heading in that direction. We can continue believing “Google for good” or we can wake up and start putting the appropriate checks and balances in what is turning out to be another monopolistic system.

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  12. Raj,

    I beg to differ. I don’t see how a free spectrum for Google could make it a “monopoly”. The internet is all about pull. The USERS pull the information they WANT and they use the services that work best for them. With an open spectrum and an open internet it allows other options open to the consumer forcing Google to make sure it maintains it’s level of service.

    Unless Google purchases all of the spectrum and somehow gains control of the entire internet (or neutrality fails) I can not see how Google could survive taking advantage of “the little guy”.

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  13. [...] Read the rest of this post Print all_things_di220:http://voices.allthingsd.com/20080819/malik-4/ Sphere Comment Tagged: 700 MHz band, Free The Airwaves, GigaOm, Google, Om Malik, Voices, spectrum, white spaces | permalink [...]

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  14. [...] Television broadcasters and wireless service providers are dead set against it. Devices supposed to work over white spaces keep failing government tests. And Google’s publicity campaign doesn’t help address either of these problems. [...]

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  15. I think this is going nowhere. By the time everyone in the US gets hooked up to WiMAX, if it happens, the rest of the world will have moved on to better long range broad band technology. I don’t think this is in the public interest – you get what you pay for, and google-powered ad driven internet isn’t going to be what you want your populace dependent on.

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  16. [...] tema se hablan Martin Varsavsky, GigaOM, bandaancha.eu y despuesdegoogle. « La historia de Internet [...]

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  17. [...] high speed internet to the country. Broadcasters think it will interfere with their signals, and GigaOm points out it’s really in Google’s best interest to have more people surfing the [...]

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  18. [...] I checked out Google’s blog post Tuesday about its Free the Airwaves project, which aims to convince the FCC to approve the use of the white spaces between the spectrum vacated by analog television channels for broadband access, I saw it offered [...]

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  19. [...] a dire picture of interference in the home and in the equipment leading into neighborhoods should Google’s plan to “Free the Airwaves” succeed. To put this in perspective, every time a consumer in a single family home uses a [...]

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  20. [...] and those trying to use that spectrum for wireless broadband. Those so-called white spaces are the last chance for wireless broadband competition in the eyes of the Alliance and the only buffer between interference and your television channels according to the National [...]

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  21. [...] I checked out Google’s blog post Tuesday about its Free the Airwaves project, which aims to convince the FCC to approve the use of the white spaces between the spectrum vacated by analog television channels for broadband access, I saw it offered [...]

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  22. [...] Spaces: Several technology companies, including Google, Intel, Motorola, Microsoft and Dell, are pleading with the FCC to open up the spectrum between digital TV channels so they can use it to offer fast broadband that [...]

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  23. [...] Communications Commission has released an engineering report that increases the chances of a new wireless broadband network operating in the so-called white spaces, or unused spectrum, between digital TV channels. Such a service could compete with existing [...]

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  24. [...] Communications Commission has released an engineering report that increases the chances of a new wireless broadband network operating in the so-called white spaces, or unused spectrum, between digital TV channels. Such a service could compete with existing [...]

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  25. [...] It will be interesting to see how they will use some of it, including the possibility of freeing up whitespace for broadband [...]

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  26. [...] the Federal Communication Commission is set to vote on a proposal to turn over spectrum between the digital television channels for a wireless broadband service, singer/songwriter Dolly Parton has come out against the plan. She joins mega-church pastor Joel [...]

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  27. [...] the Federal Communication Commission is set to vote on a proposal to turn over spectrum between the digital television channels for a wireless broadband service, singer/songwriter Dolly Parton has come out against the plan. She joins mega-church pastor Joel [...]

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  28. [...] the Federal Communication Commission is set to vote on a proposal to turn over spectrum between the digital television channels for a wireless broadband service, singer/songwriter Dolly Parton has come out against the plan. She joins mega-church pastor Joel [...]

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  29. [...] such a way as to undermine the prospects of those wireless carriers who are trying to merge?  Will unlicensed use of the white spaces be allowed – which may provide ways for rural high-speed internet access to be provided without [...]

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  30. [...] wireless broadband network in the unused spectrum between digital television stations. Between the white spaces issue championed by Google and other tech titans, approving the Sprint-Clearwire joint venture to create a nationwide WiMAX [...]

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  31. [...] uses today. Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission approved plans to make that happen. Proponents of the technology rejoiced, issuing congratulatory statements heralding the dawn of a new age of broadband for all [...]

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  32. [...] broadband could lead to 20 percent to 30 percent more revenue — which means Google’s vocal support of spectrum openness is already looking like money in the bank. The company pulled in revenue of [...]

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  33. [...] we wait on Congress, white spaces broadband will be on hold (it’s designed to occupy spaces between the digital signals in the DTV spectrum), any deployments [...]

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  34. [...] In response to questions by Sen. Maria Cantwell on how he planned to handle decision-making around white spaces broadband, Genachowski said he “applauds the creative use of spectrum,” and went on to laud [...]

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  35. [...] made a similar effort to get people involved in the debate over white spaces, the attempt to deliver broadband between the channels in the [...]

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  36. [...] anticipated that given Google’s focus on opening up the 700 MHz auction, pushing white spaces broadband and investment in WiMAX, the Nexus One also would be a hardware-based crowbar. It isn’t, and [...]

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