The Federal Communications Commission opened the possibility of super wi-fi on Thursday, approving the use of the “white space” between TV channels for a variety of communications services.
Consumer electronics and computer makers say the availability of the new spectrum would permit wifi and other communications up to 2 miles from a transmitting location.
FCC commissioners said the move would speed internet services to both rural and urban homes while pushing a variety of new services. Hospitals and cities have tested the new band to create whole facility networks, or in one case to offer video of traffic at city intersections.
“Today we open a new platform for global innovation,” said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. He predicted that with the technology U.S. companies will push a number of new products.
Companies including Dell and Microsoft had urged the FCC to approve the use of white space, while broadcasters had expressed concerns the technology might lead to interference in broadcast programming.
The FCC still has to issue final rules for the new channels; products using the technology will start appearing in about 18 months.
After today’s vote Dennis Wharton, EVP-communications of the National Association of Broadcasters, said the group is reviewing the FCC action. There has been speculation that NAB would file suit over the decision.
"NAB's overriding goal in this proceeding has been to ensure America's continued interference-free access to high quality news, entertainment and sports provided by free and local television stations,” said Wharton. “We look forward to reviewing the details of today's ruling. "
Genachowski told reporters after the meeting that the FCC is continuing to review Comcast’s deal for NBC Universal but declined to say whether the FCC would finish the review within the normal 180-day review process.
The FCC would have to finish its review by the day after Thanksgiving to meet that timetable.
“We are working diligently on transactions like this,” said Genachowski. “We have an obligation to operate efficiently and also to tackle the significant issues it raises.”