TV white space

Several writers, including Richard Cullen ("Simple fixes to help bridge rural digital divide," guest column, June 2), have recently touted the use of TV “white spaces” to provide internet service in rural areas. These are “unused” TV channels in local areas that don’t have TV signals on them.

The potential for interference with free over-the-air TV is great and the benefit to consumers for Microsoft's white space product is minimal. Local internet service providers (ISP) have plenty of tools in their pocket without risking affecting over-the-air free TV. Although there may be some applications where it is appropriate, I remind readers of some challenges.

“White space” technology is at the bottom of the food chain. It is unlicensed and must give up its use of a specific frequency if a licensed entity such as a TV translator or television station wants that channel.

Secondly, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has used the “primary contour” as the limit of coverage of TV transmitters. Montanans have a long history of using large high-gain antennas and amplifiers to receive distant signals far beyond the “primary contour” of TV signals. This means one could lose a distant signal due to interference from a “white space” provider.

Third, I checked the use of channels 14-36, which are the favored TV band of the technology, with the FCC. There are no channels not in use from Missoula to Kalispell. There are “white spaces” but are they free distant signals from favorite TV providers or “real" white spaces?

There are certainly situations where this technology can be utilized in terrain-shielded areas but a mix of technologies will be the successful solution. Be careful of the hype. Oh, and by the way, Connect Americans Now is an arm of Microsoft, the company most likely to capitalize on “white spaces.”

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The contributors to this opinion are Frank Tyro, a “retired” broadcast engineer and producer with 50 years experience from Pablo; John Terrill, president of the National Translator Association who lives in Ogden, Utah; Wayne Johnson of Southeast Colorado TV, where he manages over 100 streams of free TV from Cortez; Charlie Cannaliato of Missoula, the consulting engineer for the Montana Broadcasters Association; and Lee Good of TeleStream Services, an internet service provider located in Cardwell.

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