The switch to digital television freed up a wide swath of analog broadcast spectrum, commonly known as white space, and now those frequencies are being tapped into by communities across the nation and new technology is taking advantage of the newly-freed resource in many innovative and money-saving ways.  

Wilmington, North Carolina was the first city in the nation to make the switch to digital television, and now they are poised to become the nation’s first “smart city.” They are currently testing a system that utilizes wireless sensors, cameras and other devices to monitor traffic flow and water levels in the wetlands of the coastal community, using frequencies on the freed-up broadcast spectrum. “The possibilities of this technology, in my opinion, are endless,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. He estimates that utilizing white space for their wireless network saves the community 80-90 percent of the cost of creating a wired network. “So many possibilities that I feel will help local governments deliver services much more effectively and efficiently. You can literally cover your entire city in Wi-Fi without having to lay all these wires.”

Or your countryside. That would be pretty cool, too.

Rural areas typically have more white space available than metropolitan areas, and white spaces are ideal for delivering broadband internet access to rural areas because, unlike satellite signals, it doesn’t disappear when it rains the signals can travel for miles and doesn’t disappear in the rain, it can pass through trees and go around mountains – for ten to twenty percent of what it would cost to wire those rural areas.

In October of last year, Claudeville, VA – population 900 – became the first community to use white space to deliver broadband to it’s citizens by utilizing vacated broadcast frequency to provide a bridge between a service provider whose service area left the town out in the cold, and wWiFi hotspots in town, like at the school and the community center. When kids came back to school after Christmas, a staggering number of them had new laptops for the first time ever.

Think of the possibilities this has to enhance and enrich the educations of rural children!

And consider this: over time it will negate the need for a restoration of the fairness doctrine as broadband access opens up literally a world of information to people who have, for the last thirty years, been subjected to a constant barage of right-wing idiocy on AM radio and a steady rightward drift as newspapers have become corporate interests that no longer have the resources for real reporting, instead relying on syndicated right wing columnists rather than local commentary and wire services instead of reporters. As information saturation sets in, so will reality.

The need is real, and the fact that it serves our interest to do it is a bonus. The FCC is working on the final rules for utilizing white space to deliver broadband services now, so it is conceivable that before the end of the year, municipalities could be developing their systems…which means that the following year, a whole bunch more kids all over the country could be opening laptops on Christmas morning.

And that would be a very, very good thing.