In 2005, Section 3002 of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 amended the United States Communications act of 1934 to state that any TV incapable of receiving DTV (Digital Television) broadcasts would go dark on 17 February, 2009. This has since been codified under Title 47, § 309 of the United States Code. While this is significant for sundry people baking their noodles with antique TVs, it is even more important for the future of broadband.
Since the dawn of broadcast television in the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has been in charge of our electromagnetic spectrum. Not only does the FCC have the power to say who operates in the communication portions of the spectrum, they have the power to say what operates in the spectrum. The spectrum is divided into smaller ranges of frequencies called “Bands,” and once in a great while, the FCC creates new bands from previously-unused frequencies or converts old/unused bands for new purposes.
In the early days of dissecting the spectrum for communication and broadcasting, the “Big Four” broadcasters (CBS, NBC, ABC and DuMont) operated in the VHF band (30-300MHz). As the popularity of TV grew, the FCC realized that the VHF band was not large enough to accomodate the rapid growth of TV’s frequency requirements in addition to future communication methods. Therefore the FCC set to work and defined a large band known as UHF.
In the 470-894MHz block set aside for TV, UHF welcomed its first operator on 29 December, 1949 as viewers in Bridgeport, CT could fiddle with their antenna and tune into UHF 24 to receive KC2XAK. The UHF band as a whole is a range of frequencies from 300-3000MHz, and contains the following notable technologies:
- Over the Air (OTA) Analog TV (Channel 14+)
- XM/Sirius Satellite Radio
- GSM/PCS Cellular Signals
- 802.11B/G (WiFi)
However, as DTV (Digital TV) and cable tuners have proliferated, the importance of OTA broadcasting has dropped sharply. Vast swaths of channels are now dark, leaving only a few SDTV (Standard Definition TV/Analog TV) channels left that operate OTA — namely NBC, CBS, ABC and CBC in the Great Lakes/Niagra region.
Over the years, the FCC has repurposed UHF TV frequency ranges that are no longer pertinent. Channels 70-72 (806-824MHz) became pocket pagers and Nextel SMR, channels 73-77 (824-849MHz) became cellular phones and channels 77-80 (849-869MHz) became the frequencies employed in two-way radios for emergency services.
As of 2007, the United States is set to repurpose channels 52-69 (698-806MHz) once the conversion to DTV signals is complete in early 2009. This particular range is gargantuan compared to others that were once designated for UHF TV, which are only 20-40MHz in size. This is fortuitous for the future of broadband for two reasons:
1. Known as the “Decimeter band,” UHF has a wavelength that’s particularly suited to long-range transmission. This would make it exceptionally easy to get broadband to remote places easily and reliably.
2. The size of the spectrum being auctioned off to the highest bidder for 2009 would yield a large amount of bandwidth.
Enter Google, who is willing to offer USD$4.6 billion dollars for ownership of the spectrum. Should El Goog come to own the spectrum, it would be the first communication block suitable for broadband not owned by a large Telco (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) in the United States.
Google, in association with Skype, Intel and numerous public advocacy groups have two demands for the auction:
1. Any device and any application will be allowed to operate on the band. The FCC has supported this notion in its ground rules for the coming auction.
2. The “Wholesale Condition” which would require the auction winner to resell wireless bandwidth to other businesses. This demand would allow dozens of providers to operate in the spectrum, offering customers vast freedom of choice and the benefit of free market pricing. The FCC, unfortunately, has failed to agree with this demand.
Despite the FCC’s declination of Google’s second wish, Google is still considering the USD$4.6bn bid anyhow.
Free gNet on the gPhone running Google Apps? Time will tell.