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Google Pushes White Space, Says Free The AirWaves

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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. [digg=]

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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36 Responses to “Google Pushes White Space, Says Free The AirWaves”

  1. 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.

  2. Mr. Pig


    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”.

  3. 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.

  4. “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.

  5. 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.

  6. Bill Dollar

    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.

  7. 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.