Recently, CF&P sent comments to the FCC regarding usage of TV white space, the spectrum between channels, to deliver broadband to underserved areas. On Tuesday, Microsoft President Brad Smith presented his company’s ideas at a Media Institute luncheon:
If you don’t want to watch the whole speech, here are some of his key points.
- Broadband is a necessity of modern life–it impacts not just video games but healthcare, education, and agriculture–yet today 34 million Americans lack access to broadband, and the majority of them are in rural areas.
- Microsoft is already using white spaces in 17 countries, such as Kenya, and have connected 185,000 people
- It is launching the Rural Broadband Initiative to use a mixture of technologies, filling the gaps where TV white spaces are not available with satellite and other solutions, to increase broadband access, and estimates a cost of $8-$12 billion to reach everyone. This is much cheaper than solutions which do not use white spaces.
- Microsoft is willing to lead by example with its Rural Airband Initiative, with direct investments to reach 2 million people in 5 years, put in place 12 projects in 12 states in 12 months, and to do so without expectation of profit. It will instead use revenue share to recoup capital costs, then reinvest to expand coverage.
- To be a catalyst for the marketplace, Microsoft will license its 39 white space patents royalty-free to all comers, including competitors, to spur additional investment in the project.
Overall, this provides a great example of how the private sector can step up and solve a problem without waiting around for commands from central planners. However, they do ask the government for some regulatory certainty. Echoing the call in our letter to the FCC, Smith asked for the preservation of 3 usable white space channels in every top market in the country (instead of auctioning off every band to mobile carriers, for instance).
This doesn’t require any expansion of government authority. The FCC already has control of the TV band. It need merely provide an environment in which private investment can flow and competition can work to solve real consumer needs.