The site is clearly an attempt to frame the white space cause in lay person's terms. "Remember that fuzzy static between channels on the old TVs?" Freetheairwaves.com's home page asks. "Today more than three-quarters of those radio airwaves, or 'white space' spectrum are completely unused." Letting consumers tune into that vacant spectrum to send and pick up broadband could spark a "revolution," Google says, fostering "universal wireless Internet."
Made public this morning, Freetheairwaves (.com or .org) also represents Google's bid to lift the debate over unlicensed broadband from the nasty ditch in which it currently wallows. The Federal Communications Commission has just completed a month of tests on unlicensed device applications, especially testing whether they'll interfere with wireless microphones at a Broadway play and a football game. Every one of these demos was followed by press releases from warring industry players who insisted that the latest tryout succeeded or failed—depending on whether they use or make wireless mics, or want to use or make unlicensed broadband applications.
So a goal of the site is to avoid "getting really deep into the weeds" on the technical side of the issue, as Google's Dan Martin put it in an interview with Ars. The FAQ page emphasizes that the technology to prevent interference exists. Beyond that, freetheairwaves.com focuses on unlicensed broadband's potential: making it more available to schools, public safety providers, and rural/low income areas.
Google's dedicated YouTube page includes testimony from Matthew Rantanen, Director of Technology for the Tribal Digital Village, which provides high speed WiFi access to all Native American communities in San Diego County, California, and three tribes in nearby Riverside. The big ISPs, Rantanen says, provide no service to these areas, "so we took it upon ourselves to take advantage of that and go get it ourselves."
But while WiFi is a start, Rantanen explains, it only goes so far in these rural regions: "We need bigger pipe," he says. "White space opens that up. It drops the cost of end-user equipment. It increases the ability of us to broadcast, to not have intermediate repeating towers, to support going through a grove of trees."
Visitors can submit their own YouTube videos to freetheairwaves.com. They can sign a petition to the FCC, which may make a decision relatively soon as to whether to allow unlicensed broadband devices.
But while Google doesn't say it in any of freetheairwaves.com's promotional literature, the search engine giant is obviously sensitive to the charge that it's running a phony consumer "astroturf" campaign, and is up front about its objectives in this fight. "There's clearly a business interest for Google in this," Google's Martin told Ars. "Because expanded access to the Internet hopefully means more users using Google. And more users using Google means more people hopefully clicking on the ads."
That said, the company has identified an array of groups and individuals who have various pro-white-space agendas that parallel Google's. Other YouTube videos feature statements from Inez Gonzalez of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Joshua Breitbart of New York City's People's Production House, Tessie Guillermo of Zero Divide, and Columbia University professor Tim Wu.
"We're not pretending to speak for people," Martin says. "But we do think that once Americans learn more about the issue, they'll agree with us."