White Spaces

White spaces are sections of the radio spectrum allocated for a certain use (e.g. radio or television) that are not being used in a particular area. For example, a city might have a TV station broadcasting on channel 6 but not channel 5—a common situation because channels 5 and 6 interfere with each other. In this example, there would be white space on channel 5 (from 76-82 MHZ) in that city. Since radio signals do not interfere with TV, this white space could safely accommodate ten FM radio stations, or thousands of wifi Internet connections, or tens of thousands of cell phone calls.

In the past, there was no way to put this unused spectrum to other use, because it was inside the band that was set-aside for TV. However, in November 2009, the FCC issued an important order allowing "white spaces" devices to move forward. These new "white spaces" devices (such as computers and cell phones) will be able to listen to all of the allowable channels and transmit in the spaces of spectrum that are not currently in use. White space device users can access the airwaves directly, without a license, which opens up a more democratic future for electronic communication. But this vision is contrary to the plans of cell phone companies, which like to buy exclusive rights to the airwaves at auction and then charge people for Internet access plans over a cell phone or wireless device. White space devices could circumvent big companies and allow people to communicate directly.

Prometheus is looking into proposals (see Expanded FM Band) that would expand opportunities for participatory radio in spectrum that could be shared with these white space devices. If unlicensed white spaces devices are appropriately introduced, they could usher in a new era of free use of the airwaves.

Background Reading

Our FCC Filings