Last week Microsoft asked the FCC for Special Temporary Authority to use TV white spaces (TVWS) to restore communications in areas of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria. (See Backgrounder below for more information).
The desktop software and cloud computing giant filed an amendment to add the U.S. Virgin Islands as an additional area of operation for its TVWS deployment. Specifically, Microsoft is asking for the authorization to operate white space devices made by Adaptrum, which claims they are the leader in TVWS wireless technology. “Pioneering the use of dynamic spectrum access to deliver affordable internet connectivity over non-line-of-sight (NLOS) fixed wireless…”
Microsoft plans to “manually determine and select a permissible frequency channel using a certified white space database not less than once every 24 hours.” That’s instead of accessing a white space database over the Internet (which might not be operational in the hurricane affected areas) to determine available channels.
TVWSs are unused blocks of broadcast spectrum located between the frequencies assigned to television stations. TVWS can be used to create wireless broadband connections over long distances and in rugged terrain, without line of sight required for communications. Digital TV signals use less spectrum than UHF or VHF signals, so there are now vacant channels previously designated for television.
“TV white spaces is an ideal technology for connecting communities in Puerto Rico that currently lack sufficient communications capabilities in the wake of these natural disasters,” Microsoft told the FCC in its application.
Microsoft’s intention is to operate TVWS radios on channels authorized for use across Puerto Rico supporting the recovery efforts of organizations like Net Hope, Claro and others. In these same areas, many broadcast TV operators are off the air because of the storms. However, channel availability and power limits remain restricted for white space operations on or adjacent to these channels.
Microsoft said it seeks authorization, when permitted by the applicable broadcast licensee, to operate on these temporarily unused channels or on adjacent channels subject to greater power limits and other rules that would apply if the first-adjacent channel was not occupied by a broadcast licensee. The company said it would only operate on these channels with the consent of the relevant broadcasters and it promised to return to ordinary operations under the commission’s rules when informed that the broadcaster has resumed operations.
In an article last October, we noted that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were to receive up to $77 million from FCC to restore communications. AT&T praised the initiative, while the Verizon Foundation pledged $1M for the effort.
Microsoft deployed TVWS technology to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after the storms last year (please refer to references below).
In the Puerto Rican city of Utuado, TVWS was used to re-establish internet connectivity to a food distribution site, a health clinic and the University of Puerto Rico—sites that served as internet hotspots where people in the community could come and connect with their family and friends.
Last month, the FCC granted an amended experimental license for Microsoft to use TVWS on school buses in Michigan. The company, in partnership with Allband Communications, an ISP serving rural northeast Michigan, said it wanted to provide connectivity for school buses along a rural bus route to evaluate new ways of using TVWS technology.
Blockchain, Project Loon and Other Help:
In a Wired.com post last month, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworsel suggested that use of blockchain might be a better option than the centralized data base of available frequencies. She wrote:
Instead of having a centralized database to support shared access in specific spectrum bands, innovators should explore the use of blockchain as a lower-cost alternative.
Australian block chain technology provider Power Ledger is working with factories and regulators to help companies on the island finance so-called microgrid resources such as solar panels and battery storage. It will then use its blockchain technology to allow the companies to trade power from those resources with one another, and to sell supplies to their employees or local communities. Through this exchange, people will be able to buy power in cash, cryptocurrency or — if a company wants it — labor.
Last October, October 20, Google’s Project Loon leader Alastair Westgarth wrote a blog post revealing that it was working with AT&T and T-Mobile to support basic communications in Puerto Rico, including text messaging and Internet access through LTE-compatible phones. That was the first time Project Loon leaders recognized their goal of connecting underserved areas that were hit by a natural disaster.
Finally, AT&T extended relief for affected customers in Puerto Rico by waiving additional fees to offer unlimited talk, text, and data for AT&T wireless, and unlimited talk and text to AT&T PREPAID customers through Jan. 1, 2018. AT&T landline customers could also make free calls from the U.S. to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.