Opinion

Harnessing TV White Spaces in Rural America for the Public Good

By Morgan Reed
July 12, 2017 at 5:00 am ET

As Americans, we pride ourselves on our leadership in technology. Our homegrown companies created the social networking platforms, ride-sharing companies and online marketplaces that have revolutionized nearly every aspect of our lives. But in a world where American inventions have changed the habits, culture and values of internet users across the globe, more than 34 million Americans live without the basic resource that made these innovations possible. In the wealthiest country in the world, one in four Americans cannot access the internet, and in many cases the challenges of broadband deployment are the main culprit.

One solution is a resource that lies in our borders and within our airwaves. We are sitting upon a goldmine of unused frequencies made available through unwatched television channels, also known as television white spaces, which can bring internet connectivity to Americans in the most remote pockets of our country. We have an incredible opportunity to leverage this vital, and unused resource for public good.

For 24 million rural Americans, the internet is an elusive commodity, simply because their communities are too sparse, too remote or too expensive to reach. Lack of broadband connectivity hinders rural Americans’ access to the apps and platforms that drive our modern world, and hurts their local economies, incomes and employment rates. But television white spaces provide an easy and implementable solution. TVWS utilize existing vacant television channels and frequencies to deliver broadband access to Americans via airwaves. These spectrum bands can reach far greater expanses than traditional Wi-Fi routers, provide faster connection speeds than telephone dial-up technology, reduce the number of connectivity dead zones and do not interfere with existing or congested wireless networks. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission hailed using TVWS spectrum bands as a solution to provide service to rural areas currently without broadband connectivity — the ultimate opportunity to utilize an available public resource for necessary public good.

Access to broadband is the most vital infrastructure need of our modern world. Studies have shown that one in 10 American apps are developed outside of urban areas, many providing services that target the needs of their underserved communities. Custom web developers Sigao Studios could not provide agile solutions to tech companies across Alabama without access to broadband from their offices in Millbrook. Rural Pennsylvania’s Project Hosts relies on dependable broadband to train its local Conneautville workforce in Microsoft Azure’s cloud computing platform to provide data services to local hospitals and government agencies. Without digital connectivity, we are robbing innovators in the heartland of their opportunities to succeed.

Leveraging unused spectrum would help rural Americans connect to their peers and secure access to vital services in places where they are needed most. Kansas City communities are using television white space bands to provide free wi-fi in public libraries to help bridge America’s homework gap. West Virginia University students use TVWS, which can travel more than two miles through one television channel, to access the internet on rapid transit platforms, ultimately increasing the productivity of students who endure long commutes to campus. The local government in Wilmington, N.C., is using unused spectrum bands to wirelessly connect local parks to programs that monitor water levels and public lighting, making green spaces safer for its community.

Securing broadband connectivity through unused spectrum bands not only makes the lives of countless rural Americans easier, but it also helps to save them. More than 320 million Americans could require healthcare services at any given time, and millions of them live in communities without hospitals, Wi-Fi enabled first responders or doctors with access to digital health records. Utilizing television white spaces unleashes the potential to drive telehealth solutions in areas where it is needed most. When doctors can leverage internet connectivity to monitor real-time health data and provide medical guidance to patients unable to visit a clinic, we are using important and available resources to save lives and lower healthcare costs.

We have an incredible opportunity to bring broadband connectivity to rural Americans with resources we already have at our fingertips here at home. This reality can only be achieved through genuine public-private partnerships to implement unused television bands. We must uphold our American tradition of making the most of what we have; with TVWS, we can unlock potential not yet realized in the internet ecosystem. We urge stakeholders in government, businesses and across rural communities to work together to ensure all Americans can benefit from the connectivity and innovations that drive our world.

 

Morgan Reed is president of ACT | The App Association, and a respected expert on the government impact on technology innovation specializing in issues impacting the app development and technology industry, especially with regards to privacy, intellectual property, competition and small business innovation.

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