On January 16th, 2008, TV channels 52 to 68 go up for auction. Well, the broadcast spectrum they use is really what's being sold. This is all part of the deal Congress made with the TV broadcasters; they promised to move to digital (High Def), they got some freebies, but they had to give up these channels.
So big deal, right? Well, yeah, it is. This is fairly low frequency bandwidth, which is the bandwidth everybody wants because it travels farther and penetrates buildings.. think big drums as opposed to whistles: low frequencies go the distance. So "everybody" wants those channels (or more accurately the frequencies those channels so inefficiently consume).
"Everybody" includes Google, AT&T, Sprint and plenty of people you never heard of. It also includes your local fire, police and ambulance services: remember 9/11 when there was so much problem with different departments being unable to communicate with each other? The idea is to put all public safety into these slots to make that easier.
Originally the turkey legs were going to go to public safety and the rest of the bird would get tossed to the dogs to fight over. That is, 24MHz was to go for public safety, 60MHz or so for wireless use, and the rest of the available 108MHz had already gone somewhere.. I don't know where, but I don't have it.
Well, the FCC instead went with a plan where ALL of it (all 107 or 108 MHz - I keep seeing different figures) could be available to public safety if needed. That is, all the big boys get to bid on the 60 odd MHz that they want to have in their pockets, but they have to "build it out" so that it could be handed over to public safety use in the event of an emergency.
Hmmm.. remember those "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System" things on TV? Yeah, something like that: you'll be cruising around the country, using your 4G wireless, and they'll take it away for that.
Ok, but what about that 4G wireless? We get that, right? Yes, sort of, maybe.. but what you get, and how much fun it's going to be, depends a bit on who wins the auction in your area and how nice they want to play with everyone else. The rules set up by the FCC say that the network must allow "open devices and open applications", but they did not include what companies like Google wanted to see: open services and open networks. The difference may not seem all that much, but in reality it is. If, for example, AT&T sees cell phones as more profitable than wireless Internet, it might adjust things differently than Google would. It all gets very confusing, with everybody accusing everone else of intended rape and wholesale bribery. Hey, you mean we can't trust that other bazillion dollar corporation but we can trust you? You know what's good for us but they are just after our wallets? Gosh, I thought all of you were Eagle Scouts..
Well, no matter what happens, things will improve for you and me. Someday we may actually have wireless internet just about anywhere we want to be, and it might even be marginally cheaper in addition to faster and more reliable. How much we get and what happens longer term might depend on who wins what at the auction, but life will get better, and it is good to know that public safety will get a boost too.
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