White Space Hitting Political Rapids

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Politico reported last week that the federal budget emergency has put the drive to create a national white space infrastructure in jeopardy.

It would be a shame if the project were bogged down or eliminated altogether. White space are bits and pieces of unused spectrum - generally choice spectrum to boot, since it formerly was used by broadcasters - that many entities want to see knit into a high-powered national Wi-Fi-type service. Proponents include the Federal Communications Commission and powerful companies such as Microsoft, Intel and Google.

Besides potentially generating a lot of revenue, white space could push the technology envelope. White space isn't easy. One challenge: Available spectrum is not contiguous and different spots across the country need access to different frequencies depending upon what the local broadcasters are using. A lot of science has to be done, so to speak, to create the sophisticated database systems to track what white space is available in a given location and to ensure that white space transmissions aren't interfering with spectrum users that have priority.

Though a lot of the technology is in the lab or being tested, white space networks may never come to pass. According to Politico, the bottom line is money:

The public safety and wireless innovation bill that Rockefeller's committee marked up this week calls for allocating TV spectrum for auction at a level that may leave little room for white spaces. The more airwaves that are auctioned off to licensed holders, the less that will be available as white spaces.

The story doesn't say that commercialization of white space is doomed. Rather, it seems that it will be a chip in a multidimensional inside-the-Beltway chess game that often controls the future of such initiatives. White space is no stranger to tension. Its long-term opponents, which include broadcasters and the wireless microphone industry - which fears interference - clearly are not going away.

No matter what happens, technological advances have been made. The Register says that nine companies have been given the right to run databases, and PhysOrg.com reported at the end of May that "companies such as Google and Microsoft have been furiously working on systems" to work in the white space environment. Microsoft, the story says, has been working on the database issues.

If white space is stymied, hopefully it will be for legitimate reasons and not the senseless and hyper-partisan political volleyball that predominates in Washington.