The FCC was roundly applauded Thursday for its unanimous vote to free up vacant airwaves between TV channels for a variety of worthy purposes including expanded use of WiFi.

FCC member Robert McDowell even suggested the move might pre-empt two other FCC rulemakings – its open access and net neutrality rules.

The move will make available for unlicensed wireless devices the largest block of spectrum released by the agency in over 20 years.

Among the beneficiaries are producers of entertainment and sports events, who have long sought additional spectrum for wireless microphones.

The FCC agreed to set aside two vacant UHF channels for wireless mics in every market, and will approve additional spectrum upon request. It said users of wireless mics could register in advance for protection in the TV bands databases, certifying that they will use all available channels from 7 through 51. It said the set-aside would ensure reasonable separation distance between other TV white space devices and wireless microphone usage.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the long overdue move, a portion of the agency’s National Broadband Plan, will unleash billions of dollars of private investment to create valuable new products and services. He noted that the FCC’s previous release of spectrum produced a wave of products including baby monitors, cordless phones, and Wi-Fi.

McDowell, a Republican appointee, tweaked his colleagues by suggesting that the controversial net neutrality proceeding could now be removed from the table thanks to Thursday’s vote. “The potential uses for this spectrum are limitless,” he wrote in an accompanying statement. He predicted the move would usher in new broadband uses as quickly as innovation would permit.

Matt Wood, associate director of the Media Access Project, said the vote produced “a good day for innovators and a bad one for fear mongerers.” He praised the commission for standing up to pressure from the broadcast lobby and rejecting “its hyperbolic warnings that new smart radio technologies won’t protect against interference.”

The National Assn. of Broadcasters was restrained in its reaction. It said the NAB’s overriding goal in the proceeding has been “to ensure America’s continued interference-free access to high quality news, entertainment and sports provided by free and local television stations.”