White space surrounding rural folks across Mississippi may be the solution to closing our digital divide.
Well, “white space refers to the unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum,” according to techrepublic.com.
OK, it’s basically unused TV channels. Turns out TV channel frequencies below 700 Mhz function sort of like 4G so they can be used, with the right technology, to deliver broadband internet.
Gov. Phil Bryant has joined nine other governors in requesting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reserve “at least three white space channels in every U.S. market” to enable better access to broadband internet for rural areas. This means they don’t want the FCC to auction off these frequencies but instead keep access to them open and free.
“Approximately 34 million of our nation’s citizens lack access to quality broadband services, especially in underserved rural areas,” said the governors’ letter. “Whether it’s students trying to research a topic at home or entrepreneurs launching a business, the digital divide should not limit any citizen’s ability to learn, innovate, or connect to the numerous advantages enabled by robust internet access.”
Turns out Microsoft developed technology that at any U.S. location can sort through the FCC’s state-by-state database of used TV frequencies, bind three of them together, and provide access to high capacity broadband. The good thing about white space TV channels compared to cellular frequencies is their far reach, e.g., Mississippi ETV can cover the whole state with just eight towers.
Microsoft has reportedly opened up its patents to allow any broadband providers to use the technology.
Meanwhile, TV broadcasters say they will need those channels, especially to implement new ATSC 3.0 advanced transmission standard, according to Multichannel News.
However, a growing national initiative is promoting the benefits of TV white space access to broadband for rural areas. It’s called Connect Americans Now (CAN). Mississippi’s Delta Council has joined up.
“Staying competitive in the modern farm economy takes more than good weather and a strong back,” said Darrington Seward, a farmer from Louise and a member of the Delta Council. “A broadband connection opens up a new world of technologies, like remote soil sensors and targeted irrigation, helping to increase yields, lower costs and conserve resources. And just like any other small business, the opportunity to shop online for affordable equipment and access customers all over the world can be a game changer. I’m excited see Connect Americans Now pressing ahead on solutions that will expand broadband access throughout rural Mississippi and help close the digital divide once and for all.”
Sen. Roger Wicker, who joined Seward at a town hall meeting in Jackson put on by CAN, commented, “I am encouraged by this new partnership to help close the digital divide. Connecting more Mississippians to high-speed internet is essential to our state’s economic future.” Last year Wicker introduced legislation to speed up access to broadband for rural residents.
Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley likes the idea for telemedicine and rural clinics.
Others see it as a boon for rural small businesses. That’s something economic developers for four, rural east Mississippi counties were yearning for recently.
Maybe this is the solution they, and we, need.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.