The Genesis of Unlicensed Wireless Policy

by on April 3, 2008 · 0 comments

There’s been quite a bit of discussion on this forum recently about whether vacant television channels — also called “white spaces” — should be licensed or unlicensed. Currently, of course, most of us experience Wi-Fi as a form of unlicensed wireless, as in the 2.4 Gigahertz bands.

Last year, I wrote about the issue of white spaces, mainly in the context of the National Association of Broadcasters:

…[B]roadcasters lost the spectrum wars – or at least the first spectrum war of the 21st Century. In early 2006, Congress said enough: broadcasters weren’t effectively using channels 52 to 69, and certainly wouldn’t need them after the transition to digital television (DTV) was completed. Television stations will be forced off those channels, corresponding to 698-806 MHz, on February 17, 2009.

That’s 700 MHz. But what about 500 MHz and 600 MHz? All told, there are 294 MHz of frequencies that broadcasters will continue to occupy ever after the DTV switchover. If more than 85 percent of Americans receive television from cable or satellite, as they do, what sense does it make to reserve these choice frequencies for broadcasters’ exclusive use?

Not very much. [more…]

Now, the broadcasters are basically out of the picture, and the battle is shaping up more pointedly: the wireless carriers in the wireless association formerly known as Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, and the high-tech titans like Dell, Google, Microsoft, Philips, etc.

Let’s take a step back from the current debate, though.

All of these unlicensed wireless devices in common use today were largely illegal until significant changes were enacted by the Federal Communications Commission the mid-1980s.

While these policy measures unleashing unlicensed have remained largely in the shadows, they’ll be the subject of a half-day conference at the Information Economy Project, at George Mason University School of Law, on Friday, April 4. More information is available at

From the announcement:

This conference aims to bring new historical perspective to the emergence of the license-exempt rules and the applications that followed. It will explore the interplay between industry initiatives and government responses. It will showcase a series of academic research papers examining how unlicensed spectrum policies developed and how they helped shaped market responses.

The Information Economy Project is bringing together speakers deeply involved in crafting key policy changes, including spectrum allocations and technology standards. Many of the individuals have also been at the forefront of supplying applications via unlicensed spectrum.

This conference should prove informative to people interested in spectrum policy generally, or unlicensed wireless in particular. It may also interest students of regulation, technological innovation, communications, or law and economics.

The conference will be held on Friday, April 4, 2008, at 8:15 a.m., at the George Mason University School of Law, 3301 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia, Room 120. (Orange Line: Virginia Square/GMU.)

Full details, including the program, papers, and biographies about the participants, are available online at FOR THOSE UNABLE TO ATTEND IN PERSON, the conference will be broadcast LIVE over the Internet via TalkShoe.

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