"Wi-fi on steriods." That's one of the many potential uses for the wireless spectrum that is now lying unused between TV channels, our co-founder Larry Page told the New America Foundation here in DC this morning.

But why does Google care about helping more people get access to the web, whether it's through enhanced wi-fi or other means? As Larry put it, Google's mission is to organize the world's information -- but if no one has access to the Internet, what good is that effort? That's one of the big reasons Google has become steadily more engaged in spectrum policy debates in Washington. Wading into that debate at his talk today, Larry said that:

  • The U.S. has slipped from third to sixteenth in broadband penetration rates, in part because the U.S. has not shown leadership in encouraging greater broadband access. Utilizing the unused TV "white spaces" for broadband access would be a tremendous opportunity to bring the Internet to more Americans -- including those in rural areas and first responders. Because of the much longer range of these spectrum signals, wireless broadband access utilizing the TV white spaces could be brought to more consumers using fewer base stations -- in effect, "wi-fi on steriods"

  • While wireless microphone users express concerns about the potential for these Internet devices to interfere with their signals, in fact wireless microphones have been using this spectrum for years without interference problems, so they serve as proof that it can be done safely. And while we believe that spectrum sensing technology can be proven to work, Larry noted that Google has also proposed an enhanced spectrum protection plan -- involving geolocation and beacon technology -- to guarantee that devices using this spectrum wouldn't interfere with current users.

  • The issue of device testing has been unfortunately politicized in Washington. Larry noted that the FCC process will guarantee that no device is sold to consumers until it can be certified not to interfere -- a point often lost in this debate. He said he is "100 percent confident" that the white spaces will be used for Internet access -- it's just a question of when. And when that happens, many different companies will likely invest millions of dollars to develop innovative devices that don't interfere. But the FCC allowing this innovation to happen is a necessary first step.

  • The way that spectrum has traditionally been allocated is inefficient, and causes a lot of valuable spectrum to go to waste. Larry proposed that spectrum could be auctioned off by the government on a real-time basis (similar to Google's ad auction), allowing devices and consumers to use spectrum as they need it. He also suggested that the U.S. government agencies that hold spectrum -- primarily the Department of Defense -- be allowed to have real-time auctions of their unused spectrum to other potential users, which would also additional government revenue.

What do you think of these ideas?

Here's video of Larry's talk with the New America Foundation's Michael Calabrese: