Congress Trying To Regulate Certain Wireless Spectrum Issues… In A Payroll Tax Bill?

from the politics-at-work dept

We’ve all seen how Congress sneaks controversial issues into larger “must pass” bills. The folks over at Public Knowledge are highlighting how our elected officials are trying to sneak three questionable policies — all related to wireless technologies and access — into a single “must pass” payroll tax bill, that has absolutely nothing to do with wireless technologies:

No Net Neutrality Protections.  Forget your feelings about the FCC’s formal Open Internet Rules.  An amendment by Rep. Marsha Blackburn would prevent any restrictions on network management, block any requirements to make connectivity available on a wholesale basis (which would increase competition), and stop the FCC from passing a rule allowing users to attach any non-harmful device to the network.  As a result, the winner of the spectrum auction would be able to throttle, block, and discriminate however it sees fit – something that runs counter to any definition of network neutrality.

No Safeguards Against Further Consolidation.  It is no secret that one of the reasons that there are only four nationwide wireless carriers (and two dominant ones) is that only a few companies control most of the available spectrum in the United States.  This amendment would prevent the FCC from making sure that new spectrum goes towards new or under-provisioned competitors instead of being further consolidated by AT&T and Verizon.   That’s probably why AT&T is pushing so hard for this amendment.

No Super-Wifi.  One of the greatest boons of the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting was supposed to be the creation of unlicensed “whitespaces” or “super-wifi.”  This new spectrum – which is much better at communicating long distances and through walls than current wifi spectrum – would be used cooperatively by everyone and usher in a new era of wireless devices.  However, a third amendment would destroy the FCC’s power to allocate some of this great spectrum for unlicensed uses.  That means that opportunity would simply pass us by.

I’m not necessarily convinced that all three things are quite as “horrible” as described, but at the very least, I think everyone can agree that they have no business (at all) being in a payroll tax bill. If these are ideas worth considering, they should be put in a separate bill where they can be debated accordingly.

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Comments on “Congress Trying To Regulate Certain Wireless Spectrum Issues… In A Payroll Tax Bill?”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We really really need to push for them to finally pass a law that everything attached to a bill has to directly deal with that bill and nothing else.
This is reaching epically stupid levels as they pass laws on what they do not understand, and merely defer to one sides explanations (that have been proven time and time again to be bald faced lies).
They “sneak” amendments into bills that need to be passed, so they will quickly be swept into law because no one in Washington has the balls to actually stand up against it, well unless they can use it to terrorize the public into supporting their causes.
Even if you want to hold onto the idea that corporations are people, why do you keep working for the goals of so few at the expense of so many? And why the hell do we keep letting it happen?

Anonymous Coward says:

The NO-SUPER-WIFI is a problem.

A think that is target at companies like Republic Wirelless that are offering unlimited cellphone calls routed through WiFi for only $19 a month.


Republic Wireless is a mobile network startup is based in Cary, N.C., and is owned by, a growing telecommunications provider, or CLEC. The company can provide such low rates because it expects most calls to be carried over Wi-Fi networks, in customers’ homes and elsewhere. It requires customers to have access to at least one Wi-Fi network.

Source: InformationWeek: Republic Wireless Offers $19 Unlimited Android Plan by Thomas Claburn on November 08, 2011 05:38 PM

The no-net-neutrality rules means an endless battle with powerful institutions that have the organization and means to stay on top of those things decades.

The No Safeguards Against Further Consolidation means more monopolies arising, there is nobody going to enter that market unless those monopolies are ended.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Further clarification, not one of those things is damaging enough, but all 3 combined are a destructive force.

Giants communications companies buying the smaller ones and can just consolidate into infinity unless there comes a very disruptive technology that they miss and think will never take off and get owned like the labels, more importantly since airwaves are regulated there is just so much competition that can occur in that space and letting them buy other and merge just makes that competitive field even smaller, which is why they probably are trying to ban super-WiFi because it is a threat to their absolute power over airwaves since it routes around that and with no laws to stop discrimination, bad practices or anti-competitive behavior in a market that is already anti-competitive just makes it almost impossible to anyone to enter that market since if anybody is black balled they are screwed, any new entrant to that market will need to go talk to them first and or face things like Redbox faces at the hands of studios, that have their distributors being called by Warner to stop doing business with them, but it goes beyond that law enforcement can be called upon to harass others, politicians can be made to pass abusive laws, it just goes on and on and on.

If the concern is about unintended consequences well the price for doing nothing is higher at this point, the rules can even have a sunshine clause to make so that every ten years they are reevaluated or a performance trigger that would nullify certain provisions, everything can be fixed latter and it will suffer tremendous pressure to be fixed if it doesn’t get the results expected, those communication giants don’t have a problem reaching to politicians people do, small business do.

Just John (profile) says:

No Amendments

Isn’t this the way others also defeat good bills? By sneaking in nasty riders no one is willing to accept, so something that may actually be good is defeated?

This is just one more reason we need to see bills confined to themselves and themselves only, with no amendments, riders, or any other issues allowed to be put in them. Let each bill stand or die by it’s own merit.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or they are hoping that an amendment won’t get as much attention.
Remember it is an election year, so expect them to be pulling lots of dirty little stunts to make sure a super pac isn’t put together to vote them out for failing to service their corporate masters.

I’d love an amendment to a must pass bill locking them into minimum wage and having to buy their own health care. It would be hysterical to see all of them finally paying attention to what is being tacked onto these things when it is their ass on the line.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

>I’d love an amendment to a must pass bill locking them into minimum wage and having to buy their own health care. It would be hysterical to see all of them finally paying attention to what is being tacked onto these things when it is their ass on the line.

Oh hell yes! That would be hilarious, and a brutal application of ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Wag The Dog

This is such BS. Government has a lot of foibles, but among my peeves is when one set of regulators puts in rules for the express purpose of tying the hands of another set of regulators.

In this case, we have the FCC, charged with the task of understanding and regulating radio waves and telecommunication, being hamstrung by Congress, Marsha Blackburn (& her special interest lobbyists). The sad thing is that the FCC actually *does* understand these issues, and often rules in favor of (what it believes is) the public interest — unlike congress, which is stupider, and more easily misled by lobbyists.

So we have:
i) our dumber government officials
ii) spending our resources in order to pass laws
iii) to deliberately prevent our relatively informed government officials from doing their job.

Keep up the good work, DC.

Scott Cleland (profile) says:

check the constitution...

You asserted, “at the very least, I think everyone can agree that they have no business (at all) being in a payroll tax bill.”
I know that most people call it the “payroll tax bill” but under the U.S. Constitution Article I Section 7: “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” The spectrum provisions you mention directly effect the amount the U.S. can raise in revenues for the US Treasury.
Thus constitutionally, they have a basis for being in this bill.
Scott Cleland,

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: check the constitution...


I was going to reply as to why your points are wrong, but then I figured I’d Google you’re name to see if you are a lobbyist or something like it. Yep, you seem to be.

You have a reputation as being for hire by anti-Google forces, pro telecom, pro microsoft.

Allegedly, you are an astroturf specialist.

So, instead of replying, I feel your credibility doesn’t warrant my effort.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another case of Mike just not understanding how the system works.

Provisions like these are part of the horse trading system that is modern politics. You want my vote for your project A? Then you have to include a clause that finances or limits or changes item B for me, which is important for my constituents.

You may not agree with these items, but in fairness, it is the way that most bills get passed. It’s one of the reasons why there has been so much push on one side for the line item veto, and yet so much push back because it would hurt the system that helps congress get things done.

It’s not a very good week on Techdirt, you guys really seem to be missing a connection to reality.

Togashi (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We know full well that this is how the system works. We just don’t like it.

Anyway, this doesn’t seem to be an “I won’t vote for A unless B happens” scenario. This seems, at least to my non-professional eye, to be more like “A is almost guaranteed to pass, so let’s put in B that probably wouldn’t pass on its own merits so that it can get pushed through regardless of whether people like it or not.”

firefly (profile) says:

CTIA Ad Ties Spectrum Sale to Payroll Tax Cut Funding

Dunno if it’s just me, but when I went over to Hillicon Valley to find out more about this, there was a banner ad placed by CTIA (members include AT&T, Verizon, etc.) which read

(in large all caps) CONGRESS
(in smaller all caps) Auctioning spectrum could mean as much as $30 billion to fund payroll tax cuts.
Learn more.
America’s Wireless Companies

Could someone else take a look, and tell me if they see the same thing?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: CTIA Ad Ties Spectrum Sale to Payroll Tax Cut Funding

Didn’t see the banner, but here’s what’s going on.

The wireless carriers, and thus the CTIA, want (and arguably need) more spectrum to serve the growing demand for mobile data.

Any spectrum, if auctioned, does often deliver billions of dollars to the US treasury, paid by the carriers. The last such auction was in 2007 and yielded not just $19billion to the treasury, but it also offers the general consumer benefit of access to some pretty awesome LTE wireless networks.

Now, so far, I sound like a mouthpiece for the carriers, and I do believe the points above…but here comes the opposing argument:

So given that the LTE spectrum auction raised $19B, that is great, but a true economic argument can’t just say “Look, we raised money for the citizens with this auction, therefore the auction was good. The end.” No, instead we must consider the opportunity cost – that is, what could the country have done with the spectrum OTHER than auction it off to carriers. One of the best suggestions for an alternate way of using the spectrum would be to leave it “open”, just as we do with the 2.4GHz band that Wi-Fi and many other consumer electronics products use.

The thing is, the 2.4GHz band has seen a revolution of innovation, new products, new value creation, job creation, efficiency creation, and has generally be very good for the world. And this was with a “garbage” band of spectrum that was pretty much left unused just because nobody wanted to pay for it, because it is a resonating frequency of water (it gets absorbed very quickly by water, which is a fairly common molecule on earth.)

So, the real question is, if the FCC clears up more spectrum, what is the BEST use of that spectrum. If an auction delivers $19B of value, how much value does open spectrum create – including that which is not deposited directly into the treasury.

Anybody who tries to just tell you about the billions in revenue, and neglects the opportunity cost, is probably trying to bias the discussion in one direction.

Anonymous Coward says:

These are all really bad, especially #2. In Canada we have basically 2 companies controlling the internet, wireless and cable TV (in some provinces it’s 3 companies but still). We have some of the worst prices and service in the world, and the industry regulator that’s supposed to help consumers is only just starting to wake up to the fact that this is a giant problem. Of course that regulator is stacked with alumni from the aforementioned two companies.

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