How to Make the Internet Free

airwaves09.26.08.jpgIn between television channels, there is “white space,” or unused airwaves. Before TV went digital, this space was required to keep the channel’s clear, but now it’s no longer required. New York advocacy groups are coming together to urge the City Council to approve legislation that would open these white spaces up to public use.

The Free Press says that one-fifth of Gotham’s television channels are currently unused and “new technology can use this vacant spectrum to send powerful, high-speed Internet signals — connecting New Yorkers to a fast, open and affordable Internet.”

Cell phone companies are against the plan because it would eat into their profit margins as digital services became cheaper.

In this month’s Wired, there’s a short piece about Ram Shriram who advocates for opening up the airwaves. It could spawn “the greatest wave of innovation since the PC-platform era,” he says.

More after the jump.


Groups Call on NYC to Open Public Airwaves to New Technology

City Council should embrace ‘white spaces’ and bring high-speed Internet to all New Yorkers

NEW YORK — Community media, public interest and immigrant rights advocates are calling on the New York City Council to endorse “white spaces” technology that could boost the economy and drive down the cost of mobile phone calls and Internet access.

White spaces are the unused portions of the public airwaves between television channels. According to a study conducted by Free Press, one-fifth of New York City’s television channels are currently not being used. New technology can use this vacant spectrum to send powerful, high-speed Internet signals — connecting New Yorkers to a fast, open and affordable Internet.

“Opening the white spaces would close the digital divide, and it wouldn’t cost us a dime — or, rather, it would save us a lot more than a dime on what we’re paying now for Internet access and cell phone service,” said Joshua Breitbart, policy director of People’s Production House.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering whether to open up the white spaces to the public. Engineers at the FCC, through extensive testing, have shown that low-power, mobile devices can utilize white spaces to connect to the Internet without interfering with TV broadcasts and wireless microphones on adjacent channels.

Lobbyists from the National Association of Broadcasters, cell phone carriers and wireless microphone companies have launched a misinformation campaign to prevent white spaces from being used to provide high-speed broadband access.

“Unfortunately, many key decision-makers simply lack the bandwidth to investigate the benefits of white spaces technology,” said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press. “Instead they hear misinformation from industry lobbyists who come knocking with lies and spin meant to paint this technology as a danger to humanity.”

A draft resolution currently before the City Council, sponsored by Councilmember Gale Brewer and Speaker Christine Quinn, claims white space devices would be “devastating” to Broadway productions. The City Council Committee on Technology in Government is holding a hearing on the resolution on Monday, Sept. 29, 2008, at 10 a.m., in the Committee Room of City Hall. It is a public forum where anyone can testify.

“White spaces could provide an affordable alternative for people like me who use expensive phone cards to call family and friends back home in other countries,” said Abdulai Bah of Nah We Yone, a community group that advocates for African refugees in New York.