The results of today’s presidential election will have some effect on how the telecom and broadcast industries evolve over the next four years. But another vote today will have a quicker, more direct effect: The FCC will decide whether to open airwaves between TV channels — so-called “white spaces” — for Internet access. Or as Google (GOOG) has called it, “wi-fi on steroids.”
What’s the point? Companies like Google, Motorola (MOT), and Microsoft (MSFT) want to be able to access the airwaves for Internet devices and services. Specifically, they want the airwaves to be available on an “unlicensed” basis, meaning whoever uses them doesn’t have to buy the rights from the FCC in an auction.
Their opponents: A wide ranging group including:
- Broadcasters, who don’t want their signals messed up.
- Wireless microphone companies, who don’t want interference.
- The mobile carrier industry, like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which could potentially face new competition if the airwaves are opened. They might have the best argument: Why should the FCC offer the “white spaces” airwaves for free when the wireless industry spent $19 billion in a federal auction for similar airwaves earlier this year?
FCC member Robert McDowell told Reuters he thinks the FCC will approve the plan unanimously. Three (of five) votes are needed to proceed.
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