The FCC yesterday adopted two orders approving the initiation of operations by Qualcomm of its MediaFLO wireless multimedia system on television channel 55 in the Richmond/Norfolk area of Virginia, and in St. Louis Missouri. Qualcomm purchased the nationwide rights to use Channel 55 in an FCC spectrum auction several years ago. At the end of the digital transition, channels 52 and above will no longer be used by television broadcasters, but instead will be used for wireless services (as well as some public safety users). The channels between 52 and 59 have already been auctioned, and can be used if they don’t cause interference to current television users. In these two cases, Qualcomm was able to reach agreements with broadcasters in adjacent markets to agree to accept minimal amounts of interference so that Qualcomm could initiate its MediaFLO service. The FCC found that the minimal interference to these stations would not significantly affect television viewers, and granted Qualcomm authority to commence operations.
According to the Qualcomm website, their MediaFLO service will provide interactive audio and video to handheld devices – essentially mobile phones optimized for multimedia content. While the website seems to imply that this will be a closed system with content provided by a limited number of providers or partners, it will operate with a IP type technology, which could allow a more open system in the future. Other users are apparently planning to use these channels for high speed wireless Internet services. So, perhaps ironically, as free over-the-air TV abandons these channels in the next two years as the digital transition nears its end, a new subscription audio and video service will take its place. Progress?