Originally published: February 24, 2010
Last updated: February 25, 2010 - 12:05pm
Wilmington, North Carolina was the first spot in the country to transition from analog to digital TV. Now, more than a year later, the city is again serving as a testbed, this time for unlicensed broadband operating in the empty channels ("white spaces") of the TV band. But the goal isn't to bring broadband suddenly to everyone -- not at first.
White spaces gear first has to prove that it can save local government real money, and that means deploying somewhere unique: the swamp. "You can learn from your own mistakes or you can learn from other people's mistakes," said Rick Rotondo of Spectrum Bridge when I spoke to him yesterday about the Wilmington project. Spectrum Bridge is operating the test project under a special experimental license from the FCC, and it doesn't intend to repeat some of the mistakes made by enthusiastic early boosters of municipal WiFi. Those projects too often began without a clear economic model, and many subsequently collapsed. While Rotondo certainly hopes to offer broadband access to homes and businesses in the future, he knows that white spaces broadband first needs to prove its efficiency to the city of Wilmington. Only when it's clear that the tech pays for itself will the focus move to extending Internet access. To that end, the city has identified a host of specific test applications for the gear where digging a trench or even running aerial fiber or a wire would be cost prohibitive. One such place is the wetlands that surround Wilmington. They're studded with various water sensors to monitor the condition of the wetlands, and the EPA requires them to be monitored, especially when construction is taking place nearby.