Television stations often operate on the same or adjacent channels.  However, to avoid interference between each other, television stations are often operated in geographically separate areas.  Further, there are areas of the country where, because of population density, not all television channels are utilized.  This unused spectrum between TV stations -- called white spaces -- represents a valuable opportunity for our changing wireless mobile landscape. This block of spectrum is ripe for innovation and experimental use, holding rich potential for expanding broadband capacity and improving access for many users, and for developing technologies that can expand this type of spectrum access to other frequencies and services in order to greatly increase our ability to utilize spectrum.  The FCC is moving forward with plans and is actively working to unlock this spectrum in order to maximize white spaces’ value for consumers and businesses. In 2010, the Commission adopted final rules to allow unlicensed radio transmitters to operate in the white spaces.  This action made a significant amount of spectrum available for new and innovative products and services, such as wi-fi.  These rules provide for the following:

  • Both fixed and personal/portable devices can operate in the white spaces in the TV bands on an unlicensed basis.
  • The primary method of preventing interference to TV and other services is a geo-location capability of the white spaces devices combined with database access to identify vacant TV channels at specific locations. The databases are established and administered by parties selected by the Commission. 
  • Locations where licensed wireless microphones are used and the sites of event venues where large numbers of unlicensed microphones are authorized can be registered in the database and will be protected.  In addition, two channels (subject to availability) will be kept free of unlicensed devices at any given location to provide for wireless microphones to operate with no registration requirement.
  • Further, the rules provide for registration of the receive sites of multiple video distribution systems (MVPDs) and low power TV stations and of temporary broadcast auxiliary fixed links to provide those facilities protection from interference from TV white space devices.

The Commission continues to look at other innovative approaches to enable additional white space opportunities in other frequency bands.