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Bills bring affordable broadband by freeing unused spectrum


February 17, 2006
Today Consumers Union and Free Press endorsed two bills that would help bring affordable broadband to all Americans by freeing unused spectrum within the broadcast frequency for use by providers of wireless broadband and for other services.
Senator George Allen (R-VA) introduced the Wireless Innovation Act (WINN Act), cosponsored by Senators Sununu (R-NH), Kerry (D-MA), and Boxer (D-CA). Commerce Committee Chairman Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced the American Broadband for Communities Act (ABC Act). Both bills direct the Federal Communications Commission to move quickly to free-up valuable but unused broadcast airwaves – known as empty channels, or white spaces— which could then be used for wireless broadband. In most markets, only half of the broadcast channels are actually used by television stations.
Below are letters of support sent to Senators Allen and Stevens earlier today.
Contact: Jennifer Fuson, 202.462.6262 ext. 1121
___________________________________________
February 17, 2006
The Honorable George Allen
United States Senate
Washington, D.C 20510
Dear Senator Allen:
Thank you for your leadership in introducing today the bipartisan Wireless Innovation Act of 2006, the WINN Act, and for your commitment to bringing affordable broadband to all Americans. Your legislation will go far in providing greater consumer choice in broadband, enhanced competition in telecommunications services, and new opportunities for technological and entrepreneurial innovation. We applaud your commitment to this important issue and strongly support your legislation.
Even as high-speed Internet access and adoption has been increasing, many consumers have been left behind. The problem is particularly acute in rural and urban areas that either lack access entirely, or have only a single service to choose from. Adoption of broadband in rural areas is only half that of urban parts of the country. And adoption by average income families is roughly half that for wealthy households. Without broadband Internet access and other wireless services, Americans in rural and underserved urban areas will continue to be stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. Communities without affordable high-speed Internet access will lose jobs as businesses that need it locate elsewhere and their residents will continue to face increasingly serious disadvantages in educational and healthcare services.
Wireless, or Wi-Fi, broadband, because of its low deployment costs and ability to reach distant consumers without costly infrastructure or equipment, offers the greatest opportunity for expanding broadband access to consumers who lack it. Indeed, today, wireless Internet services providers and communities are already using the airwaves to deliver broadband to consumers in sparsely populated rural areas who have never had access to it. Broadband and other innovative wireless services offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, improved delivery of e-government services, and accelerated universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans.
Unfortunately, airwaves suitable for wireless broadband are in short supply. Currently, Wi-Fi broadband providers must rely on airwaves that limit the ability of wireless signals to pass through walls and other obstacles. And they compete with hundreds of other wireless consumer devices that use the same airwaves. Without access to more and better airwaves, the promise of Wi-Fi broadband will be frustrated.
Your legislation, by directing the Federal Communications Commission to move quickly to free-up valuable but unused broadcast airwaves – known as empty channels, or white spaces – for nonexclusive use will go far in fulfilling that promise. Each television market in the United States has fifty channels allocated for over-the-air, broadcast television. However, in most markets, fewer than half of these channels are actually used by television stations. In most rural areas, there are more empty channels than used channels. Even in urban areas, a substantial amount of spectrum could be made available for wireless broadband. These airwaves are far too valuable to consumers to allow them to lay dormant. Opening the white spaces for new and innovative technologies is an essential step toward bridging the digital divide, bringing 21st century telecommunications to rural areas and providing affordable access to all Americans.
Thank you for your leadership on this important issue and for your work to bring your colleagues together, on a bipartisan basis, to work toward a competitive, marketplace solution to the problem of inadequate and unaffordable broadband.
Sincerely,
Jeannine Kenney Ben Scott
Senior Policy Analyst Policy Director
Consumers Union Free Press
___________________________________________
February 17, 2006
The Honorable Ted Stevens
Chairman, Committee on Commerce,
Science and Transportation
United States Senate
Washington, D.C 20510
Dear Chairman Stevens:
Thank you for your leadership in introducing the American Broadband for Communications Act and for your commitment to finding solutions to the problem of inadequate access to high-speed Internet for consumers in rural America. We applaud your commitment to this important issue and strongly support your legislation.
Although high-speed Internet adoption has been rising, the United States still lags far behind other countries in broadband adoption. While the problem of limited choice in providers and high cost of problem exists throughout the United States, the problem is particularly acute in sparsely populated areas, where consumers may not even have a single provider to choose from. Broadband adoption in rural areas is less than half that of urban and suburban areas. The numbers are far more stark for distant communities in Alaska and other remote areas.
Fortunately, wireless, or Wi-Fi, broadband, because of its low deployment costs and ability to reach distant consumers without costly infrastructure or equipment, offers the greatest opportunity for providing broadband services and new competitive choices to consumers who currently lack them. Indeed, today, wireless Internet services providers and communities are using the airwaves to deliver wireless broadband to consumers in sparsely populated rural areas who have never before had access to it. In Alaska alone, communities and other providers are using wireless broadband to provide service in McGrath, Gustavas, Hoonah, and Coffman Cove, among others. Broadband and other innovative wireless services offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, improved delivery of e-government services, and accelerated universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans.
Unfortunately, airwaves suitable for wireless broadband are in short supply. Currently, Wi-Fi broadband providers must rely on airwaves that limit the ability of wireless signals to pass through walls, mountains, forests and other obstacles. This makes wireless broadband less viable for communities in densely forested areas and regions with mountainous or uneven terrain. Without access to airwaves that allow signals to penetrate these obstacles, even Wi-Fi broadband will be inadequate for these remote areas.
Your legislation, by directing the Federal Communications Commission to open currently unused broadcast airwaves – known as empty channels or white spaces – for unlicensed use will provide new opportunities even for the most remote village in Alaska. Each television market in the United States has fifty channels allocated for over-the-air, broadcast television. However, in most markets, fewer than half of these channels are actually used by television stations. And in most rural areas, there are more empty channels than used channels. For example, the Juneau area alone will have white space equal to or greater than 74 percent of the digital broadcast spectrum, even after the digital transition is completed. More remote areas of the Alaska will have even more white space available. The American Broadband for Communities Act of 2006 will allow communities, innovators and entrepreneurs to tap that valuable but unused resource to bring high-speed Internet to Alaska’s unserved villages and to the thousands of other small towns without broadband access, helping to build stronger, vibrant communities.
Thank you for your leadership on and commitment to this important issue and for working for meaningful, market-based solutions to the problem of inadequate and unaffordable broadband. We look forward to working with you toward passage of critical legislation to free unused white spaces.
Sincerely,
Jeannine Kenney Ben Scott
Senior Policy Analyst Policy Director
Consumers Union Free Press

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