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Using ‘white space’ for faster Internet

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Kai Ryssdal: Come with me now to a different world. A world where there are no WiFi dead zones, no slow Internet connections that make downloads more trouble than they’re worth. It is possible, y’know. The Federal Communications Commission is meeting next week to talk about something called “white space,” a chunk of the air waves that aren’t used at the moment and whether to make it to the public. It could, if everything works out, lead to all kinds of new devices and make your current gadgets work better and faster.

From North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin: Think of the airwaves like real estate on the Monopoly board: Back in 1985, the FCC opened up the low-rent Baltic Avenue of the frequency spectrum. These waves could barely penetrate walls — and no company wanted them.

But Daniel Berninger with Go Cipher says those waves are why we now have everything from garage door openers to WiFi.

Daniel Berninger: The whole Wifi universe and all the money that’s made on WiFi was an accidental consequence of turning over, opening up this area of spectrum.

The frequencies the FCC will address next week are the airwaves between TV channels. They easily penetrate walls and can travel fast over long distances.

Berninger: This is definitely beach front, you know, Boardwalk property.

Big tech companies, like Google, Microsoft and Dell, are anxious to use this spectrum to deliver more content faster. It could also launch a new round of innovations and applications.

Telecom attorney Robert Rini at Rini Coran can’t wait for this one.

Robert Rini: The ability of refrigerators, for example, to talk to your computer to remind ’em that you’ve run out of milk.

Yeah, just what the world needs.

Rini: I for one have young children at home, so I would find it very valuable, particularly if it was e-mailed to my wireless portable e-mail.

If the FCC does free up this white space, it will most benefit rural areas that may have limited access to wireless networks.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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