Microsoft Unveils Plan To Deliver Broadband To 2 Million, NAB Immediately Craps All Over The Announcement

from the I-just-hate-innovation-and-disruption dept

Since 2004 we’ve talked about the effort to take unlicensed spectrum, previously used by TV stations, and make a new wireless broadband delivery alternative. Dubbed “white spaces” (or occasionally and misleadingly “super WiFi”) the technology has the potential to provide less expensive, niche connectivity in areas incumbent broadband providers are unwilling to upgrade. Even then, incumbent ISPs have consistently tried to kill the technology, as has the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), whose members aren’t keen on an entirely new broadband and TV delivery mechanism they won’t have control over.

This week, Microsoft punctuated years of global trials of this technology with the announcement that it would be deploying white space broadband to around two million Americans in 12 states (New York, Texas, Washington, Virginia, Michigan, Maine, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) over the next five years. According to Microsoft, the project should cost somewhere around $10 billion, and provide another layer of competition in some of the areas that need it most:

“The time is right for the nation to set a clear and ambitious but achievable goal ? to eliminate the rural broadband gap within the next five years by July 4, 2022. We believe the nation can bring broadband coverage to rural America in this timeframe, based on a new strategic approach that combines private sector capital investments focused on expanding broadband coverage through new technologies, coupled with targeted and affordable public-sector support.”

Of course the push to connect 2 million rural consumers to broadband in a nation where 34 million Americans still can’t access broadband is a small drop in the dysfunction bucket. And Microsoft’s obviously not operating out of blind altruism here, since like Facebook their focus on broadband is primarily driven by cornering the hardware used to receive these signals, and therefore the ad load. Still, it’s at least an effort to do something to shore up connectivity in a nation that has let companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast dictate federal policy for decades — to what should be obvious results.

White Space broadband has had a long, difficult road to arrival thanks in part to intense lobbying against the technology by incumbent broadband providers, companies like Cisco, and NAB. NAB’s legal and PR assault on the technology has often been particularly comedic. At one point they employed Dolly Parton to rail against the technology, claiming it would cause interference armageddon. At several points NAB launched incredibly alarmist campaigns featuring grandmothers being left unable to watch their TV programs if white space broadband was allowed to materialize.

And while studies showed that a ham-fisted, idiotic approach to the technology might cause problems, those same studies indicated there were numerous ways to mitigate any potential issues. So plenty of very smart engineers spent the better part of a decade testing the technology, and developing an elaborate system of databases that can be used to track and prevent any potential interference in target markets. Microsoft meanwhile has been conducting trials to show the tech works as promised, and pushing the FCC to set aside unlicensed spectrum for broader adoption of the technology.

But, right on cue, NAB today issued a short and pithy statement crapping all over Microsoft’s announcement, insisting the entire technology was little more than an “unmitigated failure”:

“It’s the height of arrogance for Microsoft — a $540 billion company — to demand free, unlicensed spectrum after refusing to bid on broadcast TV airwaves in the recent FCC incentive auction,” whined NAB. “Microsoft’s white space device development has been a well-documented, unmitigated failure. Policymakers should not be misled by slick Microsoft promises that threaten millions of viewers with loss of lifeline broadcast TV programming.”

Again, while there are potential interference concerns, NAB likes to play those up for dramatic effect. Why? Because the organization’s deeper-pocketed member companies (like, oh, Comcast NBC Universal) don’t much like the idea of an entirely new technology disrupting the existing telecom and television ecosystems. After all, somebody might, oh, offer cable TV for less than the cost of a new Tesla, or deliver broadband that doesn’t require a second mortgage. Hardware companies like Cisco similarly oppose the tech because they missed the boat on early hardware development (telecom sector lawyer Harold Feld explains this in great detail here).

All of that said, it’s still not entirely clear if white space broadband will be anything more than a niche broadband solution. But it’s at least another tool in the tool chest as we attempt to bring something vaguely resembling competition to bear on a captive market. And it should go without saying that there’s oodles of legacy companies that like the current culture of dysfunction — just the way it is.

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Companies: microsoft, nab

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Comments on “Microsoft Unveils Plan To Deliver Broadband To 2 Million, NAB Immediately Craps All Over The Announcement”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Let’s consider it is a $540 billion company behind the thing so while other could make deployment harder it has real chances of becoming reality somewhere (think Google Fiber) and thus delivering another strong point to be used against the status quo. I hope they succeed – unless of course they are going the Facebook route like it did in India then it should fail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

MS is more big enough already, we ill need the likes of them to “save” of from our existing “problems”.

This is a perfect example of why I say that “pro-regulation” people work against themselves. I hear it often, Capitalism allows monopolies so we have to regulation them. And in the process of that regulation you totally allow and willingly accept the resulting monopoly….


That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

So, assuming you are who I think you are, you don’t want the government/politicians involved because they’ll just screw over the public for their own gain, and now that a private company is stepping up you seem to object to them as well because they’re ‘big enough already’….

If you’re against government interference, and you’re against private company interference by any company large enough to do anything, what, pray tell, is your solution to this particular mess?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

His solution? Have a network of good friends that can tolerate your shit, and you can get away with not having a high school education, dedicating yourself to an existence to do little more than yell at everyone else how they’re doing it wrong.

That’s the closest he’s come so far to a “solution”, and it boils down to being “lucky”.

He’s like the kind of person that comes up with a snappy slogan, then flies around the world giving expensive conferences to tell everyone else how they fucked things up.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I wonder where did I say M$ should be the one to save us.

Have you ever played that Monopoly board game? Everybody starts equal with the same amount of money and whatever. What happens every single game given enough time? Somebody dominates and crushes the rest.

The game was created exactly to show that the complete lack of regulations inevitably leads to abuse. Simple economics. So you absolutely NEED regulations. They are not the problem itself. The problem is how they are delivered.

Currently we have a broken telecommunications legal framework that empowers monopolies and screws new competition. That’s precisely what Google Fiber has been showing. And what M$ can show regarding less covered/desirable areas. The solution isn’t to remove all regulation but to produce a healthy regulatory environment that fosters competition instead of hampering it.

Your “regulation is bad” trope is getting tired.

Anonymous Coward says:

i wonder if they’ll be stopped, just as Google was? they tried, were hit at every possible point and just gave up and again it’s all thanks to corrupt politicians who would fill there own bank accounts rather than serve the people they are supposed to represent, the people who voted them into office! nowhere on Earth like the US of A!! the land of opportunity!!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Google didn’t exactly give up, by all accounts they merely decided to invest in new wireless technology instead to bypass the physical access issues that were stopping the physical route. Whether or not that’s the same thing being attempted by MS here or not, I’m not sure. But, I’m sure Google haven’t given up, they just decided to stop throwing money at a specific solution when it because clear that the current approach would be blocked without resolution in favour of their competition.

PaulT (profile) says:

“At several points NAB launched incredibly alarmist campaigns featuring grandmothers being left unable to watch their TV programs if white space broadband was allowed to materialize.”

Did, erm, anyone explain to them that those same TV programs would be available over the new signal even if it did interfere (barring deliberate refusal to allow them)? I can understand why having to invest in some small device or slightly different way of tuning in might be problematic for some of those people, but I’m sure they overcame the same kinds of fears when the TV signals themselves were introduced.

“after refusing to bid on broadcast TV airwaves in the recent FCC incentive auction”

Did those frequencies allow for what’s being planned here? Were they earmarked for TV use and thus MS weren’t allowed to participate? I’m not sure of the details offhand, but I’m willing to guess that there’s a reason why they didn’t do so. This is so suspect, it’s got me trying to think of ways to defend Microsoft FFS!

“Policymakers should not be misled by slick Microsoft promises that threaten millions of viewers with loss of lifeline broadcast TV programming”

Nor by those people who promise such things will happen if they don’t get their way.

Also, having never been American nor rural, can someone explain to me how TV is a lifeline for those people? I can understand telephone and internet, etc., but not one-way broadcast technology (at least not in ways that couldn’t easily be duplicated and improved via the internet).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Also, having never been American nor rural, can someone explain to me how TV is a lifeline for those people?

TV and radio are still the best way of getting things like tornado or other severe weather waring out to people, along with evacuation orders because of things like wildfires.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, that makes sense, but only if you have the TV/radio turned on all the time. What happens if those people are outside or asleep at the time? Surely an internet connected device such as a smartphone would be a better solution than hoping people are watching TV at the time of a potential disaster? If there’s that much danger of frequencies colliding then the signal reaching people wouldn’t be a problem, and if it’s a requirement to keep a special signal available in case of ISP outage, that could be utilised in tandem.

I may be overthinking this or too used to living in proximity to people (though it’s not like I’ve ever lived in a major city), but I can’t really think of a situation where a TV is important in a way that wouldn’t be adequately replaced by the wifi signal. Note that I’m not trying to degrate people who do live that way, I just don’t see how TV is ever more useful than a medium that allows greater levels of contact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In the remote areas, mobile phones are very unreliable, and phone and power line prone to destruction. Weather conditions usually change ahead of real problems, and that is when the people fire up the generator if necessary, and them switch on the TV or radio to monitor the situation. In other words TV and radio are the most reliable way of getting messages out to people in the remoter areas. It may not work in all cases, but is by far the most reliable approach.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“Policymakers should not be misled by slick Microsoft promises that threaten millions of viewers with loss of lifeline broadcast TV programming.”

They should however still believe our promises that we’ll wire everyone & we have real competition (even when we magically have the same prices in the few markets we have to share).

Pretty sure we have this bizarre tech that makes radios that turn themselves on when an emergency signal goes on.
Where is this concern about the loss of the lifeline the internet can be to people?
They raise rates out of reach, if they are forced to offer a cheaper option they make it impossible to find or qualify for, and then sometimes they expect you to pay their costs to run the line out which then they might offer to connect others to.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, NAB was proved correct about technical problems with the original idea and engineers spent a decade to fix, yet you're ragging on NAB again?

Sheesh. Just Techdirt’s usual never admitting that anyone else was — or could be — right. As I’ve written, if proved wrong, items are never brought up again, but a decade later this reverses even NAB being correct into basis for more attack.

Ten billion / 2 million: 10,000,000,000 / 2,000,000 – 5,000 per person. Not gonna happen, too long to pay back — unless are big gov’t subsidies, as with Tesla: you should all forget “capitalism”, though, was nice while it lasted, but this is the age of global fascism.

I don’t see the point of this PR except for PR, as Microsoft is always desperate for any slight positive.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: So, NAB was proved correct about technical problems with the original idea and engineers spent a decade to fix, yet you're ragging on NAB again?


If this is correct, you should have a link to the proof, right?

“Not gonna happen, too long to pay back”

According to who? Microsoft seems to think it will pay off in the long term. What’s “too long”, anyway? Isn’t a large part of the problems with US infrastructure because too many companies insist on short-term solutions that end up costing much more and leave areas unserviced by modern infrastructure?

“as with Tesla”

You’re against this because you think a startup is equivalent to Microsoft?

“you should all forget “capitalism””

Oh yes, if government subsidies are accepted that suddenly they’re socialist, right? I’d love you trying to name a successful industry that doesn’t do any such thing. Especially if you include the tax cuts that they lobby for.

“I don’t see the point of this”

So? Your personal understanding, whoever the hell you are, is immaterial to the facts. Let’s see some evidence to support your own claims.

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