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Google's FreeTheAirwaves Push

Posted by: Olga Kharif on August 18, 2008

Today, Google has launched yet another publicity campaign. asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to carve out a piece of airwaves, called white spaces, for free public broadband use.

But while the idea has appeal, and has gained support from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, I just don’t see it going anywhere any time soon — despite this additional pressure from Google. 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.

According to Google, the FCC will finally make its determination on white spaces this fall. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the vote is delayed yet again, as it has been for more than a year, due to industry resistance and technology issues. Perhaps Google hopes the FreeTheAirwaves campaign will help move the needle. I am not so sure.

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Reader Comments

Pat O

August 19, 2008 02:19 AM

Yeah, so is that woman's babbling supposed to distract me from their corporate begging? Lame. People can whine about Microsoft all they want, but at least they go out and buy something if they are interested in it.

If Google was so serious about this, they should have outbid Verizon instead of trying to get something for nothing. They took a gamble acting like 6th graders at the FCC auction and it blew up in their face. Move on Google, or at least stop trying to twist it into some kind of pseudo-political movement. As if we don't have enough of those.

Richard Dreyfuss

August 19, 2008 02:34 AM

Is it of any public interest to know what percentage of the world's English-speaking News Dissemination Industry is owned by one man? And if the answer to that question is anywhere between 35-to 50%, is that of any import to the English speaking World?
If so, why isn't it as 'hot-button' an issue as it seems?
and if the FCC has bent it's own rules to allow this, isn't that a subject that might be of some consequence?
The mandate of the FCC that protected the 'News" divisions of the publicly owned networks to allow the News to be driven by the needs of the Public in knowing the world has been trashed by the need for profit and the deliberate confusion
that causes We, the People to forget that We own the networks, that the FCC is working for us, and not any party, any corporation, or Rupert Murdoch.
Notice what we don't teach our children, like the pre-partisan tools of authority that lets our system be run by competent and well informed people. We teach our children what we wish them to know, don't we? And we don't teach them what we don't wish them to know.
Google is fighting a Good Fight, however right or wrong in the details. They are trying to restore something basic We used to have, and had it changed from under us. They should be encouraged, and joined, by all of the People who want the Best America possible, not just an inert, unquestioning work force. Being a patriot means loving the America we leave to our future, which is screaming at us to help them.
If one thinks it proper to report this story as an example of obvious impossibility, it might be right to think of those who feel that way as traitors to their own children. Why not point out what we need, or how Google's idea might be improved? Or would that be too partisan, too unbalanced?


August 19, 2008 07:44 AM

Television broadcasters and wireless service providers are dead set against it - so what are the odds that the needs of the many could ever outweigh the desires of these two?

C Lucas

August 19, 2008 08:11 AM

This is vital to having the intenet accessable to lower income families and people who can not afford having the internet in their houses. This should be passed with no thought in my opinion.

Zeev Reuteman

August 19, 2008 08:50 AM

YOu can be sure that if the move was to secure broadband access for privatizing it or for political proselitism or for military purposes all kinds of conection problems would be solved in 0 seconds flat.


August 19, 2008 09:04 AM

I though Verizon Bought up all the White Space?

iron wil

August 19, 2008 09:57 AM

I hope that we understand the importance of getting this pushed through the FCC. One it could potentially 'solve' the Last Mile problem in rural parts of the US.

iron wil

Joey Smallwood

August 19, 2008 11:20 AM

This should not be passed. There is NO way you can guarantee that these devices will not interfere with licenced services. I can see cable and satellite providers sponsoring this as it could potentially screw up everyone's OTA reception to the point of driving them to a pay TV service.

The proposed devices would avoid interference by monitoring the frequency first before transmitting, right? Look at the antennas on a wireless router. Now, look at a rooftop TV antenna. Big difference. If a 3 inch antenna was sufficient to receive TV signals on, wouldn't everyone have had one instead of the rooftop metal monstrosities? My point is that a little wireless router box is NOT going to be able to sufficiently detect the presence of a television station in anything but a strong signal area. Plus, in the case of TV stations which don't transmit 24 hours the devices would have to constantly check for the presence of a licenced user, not just during channel selection. Propagation conditions change and new stations appear that you could potentially interfere with. Will this device be able to protect them? I doubt it. So you add in geolocation circuitry. That makes the device more cost prohibitive, but who's to guarantee that these will be used to access the internet? I know now that there are many wireless routers which are used just to access a local network or company intranet. What's to guarantee that the owners will update the geolocation database when new TV stations come in the area? I'm already having enough trouble trying to get the electric company to come out and fix their noisy interfering transmission lines and now Google proposes I look forward to getting my signals jammed by all my neighbours. Great.


August 19, 2008 12:00 PM

Richard Dreyfuss:

I agree with you 100%. The media has been completely dominated by a few corporations who have bought the govt and taken control of the internet and all potential rival news outlets. Google is fighting the good fight, and they have my support.
We the People own the airwaves-not the corporations! The fact that America (through ARPA) invented the internet yet ranks #15 in net speed should you the corporate model is dangerous when applied to something we depend on to compete globally. We need a freenet to force prices down and QOS up.
Free the white spaces!


August 19, 2008 12:35 PM

Right ... so how is it fair that everyone else has to purchase licenced spectrum (AWS, 700MHz) but BoonGoogle wants yet another handout?

When you have Vint Cerf as your evangelist (Vint never picks up a lunch bill) then BoonGoogle will keep on coming up with hairbrained business models.

Last Mile problem? Sorry ... the raw math with $/bit doesn't add up unless 256Kbs is what you are after.


August 19, 2008 12:43 PM

DARPA left a loose foundation when T-1's was the baseline. The $$$ to fund infrastructure came from business.

Why give it away for free to another business when all the other businesses have paid billions for infrastrucutre.
Also ... the performance of 'white space' is pure technical hoopla from BoonGoogle. It's not the answer.

Other countries came later with funded mandates for transport. ARPA was a nice start, but we need help to keep the $/bit costs down across the backbone.

Last mile is the challenge:

- DSL moving into VDSL space requires deeper penetration of fiber to the node and bonding of crappy copper pairs. This has a finite limit.
- FTTx requires billions in architecture rebuilds. Verizon has cherrypicked and is out of capital.
- Wireless does not scale, even with LTE, to meet consumer behavior. This will always be a secondary data market.
- Cable has the best shot with DOCSIS 3.0 as the last mile potential (thank you Shannon's Law) of the existing plant can hit Gbs if all spectrum is reclaimed and all content is sent via IPTV.

This is a compelx problem. Being a Google Syncophant will not solve the broadband issue in the states.


August 20, 2008 02:50 PM

Well considering that around 56% of Americans have no access to high speed internet this would be an awesome thing to have put in place and one that I hope does come into play, this way no matter where you are you will be able to get high speed internet and such a push would also unify this country, we are falling so behind compared to the UK and Japan in particular that its sad, yes I know their land mass isnt as great as ours so its easier to keep their lines up to date to offer insane internet connections and so forth but this analog internet would certainly allow us to catch up to that and in fact it could offer connections speeds far faster then what most can get in major cities and so forth. I for one am for this push.

Prokofy Neva

August 20, 2008 06:12 PM

Soooo...Google wants free white space ostensibly in the public interest, so we'll go online and click on all their ads while using their search engine? oh-kay.

The problem with media concentration isn't Rupert Murdoch, as there are at least 50-70 percent *other* media alternatives to him, the problem is people like Richard Dreyfus imagining they speak for "We the People" because they can get on a blog and rant. They don't.

Ari - Laberinto Social

August 21, 2008 07:24 PM

I am happy to see the response rate on this issue. It is extraordinarily important for everyone that cares about what they "see or hear" on the airwaves.

You can see my response here:

Tom McKee

September 1, 2008 10:47 AM

Zeev Reuteman (above)is right:

"YOu can be sure that if the move was to secure broadband access for privatizing it or for political proselitism or for military purposes all kinds of conection problems would be solved in 0 seconds flat."

There are no technical reasons why, with appropriate rules, the "white spaces" cannot be used for unlicensed devices with no impact on normal TV reception. The objections are all political and commercial.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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