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The NAB Could Threaten Rural Broadband Initiative

By using leveraged television white spaces, groups like Microsoft will be able to provide fast and reliable wireless broadband internet to America’s rural communities.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is opposing technology and legislation that would allow the unused spectrum in television white spaces (TVWS) to be used to provide fast and reliable wireless broadband to America’s rural communities and is presenting a false choice to those communities to make its case.

According to the Pew Research Center, “rural Americans are now 10 percentage points less likely than Americans overall to have home broadband.”

A gap that the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) and Microsoft hope to eliminate entirely within the next five years by using TVWS.

But the NAB stands in opposition to these groups’ use of the TVWS, claiming that if ACT and Microsoft are able to use the TVWS to provide enhanced broadband access for rural America, these communities will lose access to local broadcast stations.

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Robert McDowell explained why TVWS are so coveted in a recent op-ed. “The TV frequencies are highly coveted because they can carry large amounts of data over long distances while penetrating buildings.”

However, the NAB’s claim that these rural communities will lose access to local broadcast if these groups use TVWS is false and a concern already addressed under federal law, which states that devices using white spaces cannot cause harmful interference to licensed users, such as TV broadcasters.

“The use of unlicensed TVWS bands will not interfere with regular broadcast airwaves, nor will it harm farmers’ ability to gather information on their crops,” ACT promised.

ACT also states that “rural farmers and ranchers could rely on one-way periodic television broadcasts to receive local news or information about fast-moving weather emergencies and have on-demand, 24-hour access to an entire ecosystem of two-way interactive mobile app tools to access the information they need through wireless broadband.”

Microsoft President Brad Smith earlier in July said that the tech giant would use TVWS to eliminate the rural broadband gap entirely in the next five years.

What might be more important for Microsoft and ACT in this fight against the NAB is that their use of TVWS is in line with the Trump administration’s agenda.

“One of the most significant things that I’ve seen during my time here is that there is a digital divide in this country—between those who can use cutting-edge communications services and those who do not,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told his staff after being appointed to the job by President Trump. “I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close that divide—to do what’s necessary to help the private sector build networks, send signals, and distribute information to American consumers, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else. We must work to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

The issue of providing enhanced broadband access for rural America is one that is close to President Trump’s heart. Trump has promised that enhanced broadband access for rural America would be part of his $1 trillion infrastructure proposal.