Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!


The coming fate newly available broadcast spectrum

Much of the debate that goes on over what the FCC should or should not be doing leaves me confused and ambivalent. I hate not having an opinion, preferably a strong one, and especially on such an important set of topics. So when I read something on one of these debates that I makes a strong case, I'm happy.

I was very happy indeed to read Scott Bradner's article, FCC ignores the lesson of Wi-Fi's history, in the 13 Aug 2007 issue of Network World1. Mr Bradner is Harvard University's technology security officer. That's good too; I tend to trust academics. He writes about the FCC's proposed rules for splitting up of broadcast spectrum that will become available after end of analog television on 17 Feb 20092:

The FCC has decided on a public-private partnership to run the public safety part of the spectrum. The other option was a government-run, national public safety network. I'm not sure the path the FCC wants to take will change the overall result. Considering the unblemished history of such projects, I fully expect any useful network will be decades off�if it ever shows up�and will produce vast windfalls for a few selected vendors at the taxpayers expense.

The FCC's decision about the public safety network was quite predictable and, sadly, so were its decisions about the rest of the spectrum.

Anyone who has been paying attention at all knows that the most dynamic explosion in the uses of wireless has come in the unlicensed, small chunks of spectrum where such technologies as Wi-Fi prosper. It would seem obvious that if the FCC's goal in deciding what to do with the to-be-released spectrum was�as the FCC press release states�"serving the public interest and the American people," at least part of the spectrum would have been added to these unlicensed bands. Communications companies, however, do not spend billions of dollars (the FCC's minimum bid for a part of the spectrum is $4.6 billion) to open up spectrum for everyone to use, for free. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin noted in his statement accompanying the news release that the FCC had to produce "a fair return on this asset for the American people." In focusing on the auction return, the FCC ignores the proven value - far more than $4.6B - that more unlicensed spectrum would have returned to the U.S. economy.

Well I haven't paid a lot of attention, but I know that what he says about what's happened in unlicensed spectrum is true. And, wow! does his anti-government slant ever appeal to the libertarian in me! And boy! does the infinitesimal likelihood of anyone but the big spenders (i.e. communications companies) benefiting in any significant way ever appeal to the cynic and the pessimist in me!

Well, now I've got at least one strong opinion on this set of issues.

1Interestingly enough, you'll never learn who the author is by reading the article on Network World's web site.

2Oh yeah! Did you know your non-digital television will become obsolete in 16 months? This is the date when non-digital broadcasts will cease, by Act of Congress. I have a feeling a lot of people are in for a rude surprise. Even if, unlike me, you do have a digital set, you probably have at least one analog set you still use.

Blog home
Blog archives