The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed [pdf] that wireless devices and wireless broadband providers be able to operate in unused bands of the broadcast television spectrum.

In a move supported by Intel, but questioned by a broadcasting association, the FCC voted to begin a process of developing rules for unlicensed wireless devices to operate below 900MHz and in the 3GHz band of the radio-frequency spectrum. The FCC's proposal would require that those wireless devices not interfere with existing broadcast signals by incorporating "smart radio" features that detect used spectrum.

Devices allowed under the FCC proposal would include wireless networking cards for computers, wireless connections to printers and keyboards and wireless headsets and computer connections for cellular and phones. Also permitted under the FCC proposal would be wireless transmitters used by wireless broadband providers to deliver service.

Wireless signals using the TV band can travel farther and penetrate buildings easier than signals in the current bands used by wireless devices, according to the FCC.

Intel, unsurprisingly, praised the FCC's decision. The proposal is the first step toward making better used of broadcast TV spectrum as the US and other countries move toward digital television, said Pat Gelsinger, Intel's chief technical officer.

"For more than half a century, vacant TV channels (which represent some of the most valuable spectrum available) have been under-utilised," Gelsinger said in a statement. "Releasing this spectrum for unlicensed use will help foster new technologies, create opportunities for business and bring exciting new products to consumers."

But the National Association of Broadcasters said the proposal could cause "unforeseen" interference to broadcast signals seen by millions of US residents. "Free, over-the-air television provides invaluable news, information and entertainment to local communities all over America and serves as a lifeline to citizens in times of crisis," Edward Fritts, the association's head, said in a statement. "We will work with the FCC to ensure that this proposal can be accommodated while preserving interference-free over-the-air television."

The FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which could take several months to finalise, seeks to establish separate interference rules for personal wireless devices and fixed access transmitters.

The opening up of the TV bands to wireless devices could create an "explosion" in new business similar to the impact of the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards, said FCC Chairman Michael Powell. The proposal also could bring more broadband services to rural areas, he said [pdf].

"This technology has the potential to provide greater service to the American public," Powell said in a statement. "It promises to dramatically increase the availability and quality of wireless Internet connections - the equivalent of doubling the number of lanes on a congested highway."