I recently argued that corporate interests were working hand in hand with regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to stymie the advance of Television White Space Technology (TVWST) in Wisconsin and called on legislators to take action. Last Thursday, Governor Scott Walker demanded that the FCC finalize rules broadening access to broadband internet by advancing TVWST.
Absurd FCC regulations have kept rural Wisconsinites without access to high-speed internet for far too long.
Television white space is the unused spectrum between broadcast television stations, which can be used to deliver high-speed internet to rural and generally underserved areas of Wisconsin. Currently, FCC regulations designate a range of important frequencies for non-commercial use, which makes it impossible for innovative broadband providers to use the empty TV channels they need to make TVWST viable.
The FCC rule, which was initially enacted to prevent signal interference, has obviously become outdated and is clearly now causing far more harm than good. It only remains because it serves the moneyed interests of corporate broadcasters bent on monopolistic control over the frequencies and rural markets in question. The obstruction of TVWST is a perfect example of cronyism at its worst, not only because it allows a handful of companies to profit at the expense of everyone else, but also because it impedes market progress.
Today, roughly 34 million Americans don’t have broadband internet access. Of these, 23.4 million live in rural areas and are increasingly unable to partake in the same economic and educational opportunities enjoyed by their better-connected urban neighbors. Included in that figure of 23.4 million are 13 percent of Wisconsinites. Were the FCC to abandon its rule limiting the use of whites spaces, it would allow firms to use them in order to bring value to rural Wisconsinites. Essentially, it would make room for a completely new segment of the market to flourish.
TVWST represents a powerful bandwidth that enables wireless signals to travel across long distances. It’s why people could watch TV in rural areas decades before the advent of satellite television. If the FCC were to abandon its outdated white spaces rule, there are thousands of people who could expect to benefit, and these benefits aren’t just limited to being able to do things like load clips on YouTube faster.
TVWST could allow Wisconsin’s rural population to have access to telemedicine, which gives people in rural community’s access to life-saving monitoring services as well as distant medical specialists. Likewise, TVWST could open access to educational opportunities. And just as TVWST adoption would be helpful for peoples’ health and minds, it would be a boon to rural businesses that could broaden their customer base. In particular, farmers would be able to reap the benefits that broadband brings, including precision agriculture and remote monitoring equipment, which can help farmers optimize irrigation, conserve resources, and multiply their yields. Unfortunately, the FCC stands in the way of progress.
According to Walker, “Fast, reliable internet access has the power to help businesses reach new markets, create jobs, and improve educational opportunities by connecting students in innovative and engaging ways.” He’s right. To facilitate the plan, the FCC would simply need to reserve three unused channels in every market language for private companies to provide broadband access—that’s all it would take.
Walker’s efforts in this vein are commendable. Thanks to cronyism and the FCC, the internet revolution has been needlessly blocked from reaching much of rural Wisconsin, leaving whole towns without important access to the economic opportunities that high-speed internet brings.
It’s only by removing harmful regulations and allowing the market the freedom to grow, that we can expect the best possible outcomes for rural Wisconsinites.
Phil Anderson is the Chair of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, and the Libertarian Party candidate for governor.