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FCC Approves Spectrum for 'Super Wi-Fi'

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, September 24, 2010

The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously endorsed a proposal to free up for unlicensed use the so-called TV white spaces—vacant airwaves between TV channels—that supporters predict will improve the availability of new technologies such as "super Wi-Fi" for underserved areas, including rural healthcare providers.

It's the first significant block of spectrum made available for unlicensed use in more than 20 years.

"This new unlicensed spectrum will be a powerful platform for innovation. And as we've seen time and again, when we unleash American ingenuity, great things happen," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, after Thursday's 5-0 vote.

"We know from experience that unlicensed spectrum can trigger unexpected but hugely beneficial innovation. For example, years ago, there was a band of low-quality spectrum that was lying fallow. Nobody could figure out what to do with this so-called 'junk band,' so the FCC decided to free it up as unlicensed spectrum. The result was a wave of new technologies—baby monitors, cordless phones, and eventually a real game changer:  Wi-Fi. Today, Wi-Fi is a multi-billion industry and an essential part of the mobile ecosystem," he said.

Genachowski described the TV white spaces spectrum as "far more robust" than the airwaves released for unlicensed use in 1985, with the ability to travel longer distances and through walls.

Hocking Valley Community Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital in rural Logan, OH, is the first hospital in the nation to access TV white spaces through a demonstration project funded by Google and Spectrum Bridge Inc., a Lake Mary, FL-based wireless software and services provider.

HVCH's President/CEO LeeAnn Lucas-Helber says the hospital located 50 miles southeast of Columbus has already seen improved Internet access with white space, which was installed at the end of August.

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2 comments on "FCC Approves Spectrum for 'Super Wi-Fi'"


Rhonda McKenzie (9/30/2010 at 8:42 PM)
This is a "too rapid", not completely thought out development of unlicensed wireless health care informatics. Patient privacy and security is mandatory per HIPPA. Even with wireline local area networks (LAN) and licensed wireless local networks(WLAN); licensed Virtual Private Networks (VPN's)-all accessing the World Wide Web has enabled patient-identifiable information and other sensitive health care information ripe targets for the modern day hackers. They are hacking for EHR's and insurance information- a prime target. Think about the consequences, Identity Fraud, Pre-Existing Condition raising insurance rates, a rare disease in a certain region that could become pandemic get in a bioterrorists hands,the risks continue. The modern day hackers are moving faster than the Certified HCIT professionals can develop methods to mitigate specific threats and vulnerabilities a health care professional (or staff member) could be exposed to when using wireless hand held devices, laptops on LICENSED SECURE PCS,800 MHz, LMDS, MMDS, wireless networks accessing the WWW through search engine apps. Here are a few examples that have occurred while the medical professional is on Licensed carrier's network using Wi-Fi, WiMAX, etc.to access the Internet then using a search engine to get into their medical networks or correspond with their co-workers: -Malicious entities have gained unauthorized access to the HCO's internal computer network through the wireless connections, bypassing firewall protections. -EHR's and other sensitive information has been corrupted during improper synchronization. -PDA's,handheld wireless devices are easily stolen and can reveal sensitive, and private patient information. Many physicians are unaware of how unsafe Wi-Fi is to send patient-identifiable information to another doctor while having a cup of coffee at a Hot Spot. -Ad hoc transmissions can and have caused internal attacks on the HCO's network. -EMR's, EHR's, imaging data, billing information, and other sensitive data that isn't encrypted (or was encrypted with inferior techniques and protocol)and then is transmitted between two wireless devices can be intercepted and disclosed to unauthorized parties or used for malicious purposes. -Unauthorized users (hackers, some hired by the HIC's) are obtaining access to the wireless networks by piggybacking or war driving. "Piggybacking" is simply gaining access through and unsecured, unlicensed wireless internet connection. (Karygiannis & Owen, 2002). "War driving" involves hackers driving city streets with an antenna and a wireless computer looking for an Internet connection being used by a medical provider, or clinical staff. This includes e-mail's correspondence from one Doctor to another for discussion about a shared patient. The patients EHR's are totally exposed, and this is on licensed, encrypted networks with what is thought to be a secure VPN cloud. Please. Think this through! This could become a National Security Issue very rapidly. Creating a "quicky broadband access" solution will create a great threat for intentional or unintentional release of patient-identifiable information privacy breach. This constitutes a misuse of the Health Care Organization's and the FCC's information systems. The Health Care Organization's will need a great deal of insurance coverage because patient-identifiable information will have a greater chance of being intercepted[INVALID]thus, the patient's rights to privacy and confidentiality would certainly be violated and the organization's IT assets would be at considerable risk. Protect patient rights while allowing APPROPRIATE ACCESS. Unlicensed TV White Space and any other unlicensed spectrum is inappropiate and will prevent the objectives of President Obama's Executive Order(January 09) charging the ONC to create a National Healthcare Information Network that would be ubiquitous, secure, and assure the privacy of patient rights. Unlicensed spectrum and the President's objectives endorsed in the the ONCHIT Executive Order (January '09) should never co-exist. Or, there will be new risks of potential bioterrorism, inability to respond appropriately to medical needs created by natural disasters, terrorists acts, or acts of war on U.S.A. national territory.

stevenking (9/27/2010 at 8:06 AM)
If privacy concerns cannot be adequately addressed, how will just freeing up spectrum actually help healthcare, aside from making signal strength better, in general? Most press says that militant security is needed...elaboration in this area is tantamount to success.