Unexpected, But Good: Justice Department Says FCC Should Free Up More Spectrum

from the it's-a-start dept

You don't really expect the Justice Department to be involved in the question of spectrum allocation, but it has suggested that the FCC free up more spectrum for broadband efforts. The reason is that this is coming from the antitrust division of the DoJ, and the hope is that with more spectrum, it can be allocated to upstart competitors which will increase competition in the not very competitive broadband market (and don't believe the telco lobbyists who claim otherwise).

Still, if we're talking about freeing up spectrum, shouldn't things go a bit further? We still have a situation where the FCC doesn't just allocate the spectrum, but also decides what it must be used for. We'd be much better off, and have a lot more competition, if companies were free to make use of spectrum in the way they felt could bring the best return -- and that companies who were granted spectrum rights also had the right to then resell those rights. While I'm still hopeful that new technologies will make spectrum scarcity a thing of the past, we still haven't seen enough evidence that the technology really works. So, in the meantime, the better solution is to get more spectrum on the market, and stop putting limitations on how it can be used.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    :), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 3:09am

    Eco system.

    They didn't change the eco system so it will not work.

    When someone can own the content, the content distribution, the other channels and buy others and not have to make any investment in real infra structure there is no point in doing anything else and at the same time forbidding communities from building up anything is just silly.

    By communities I mean people not representatives from the local government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    :), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 3:10am

    Eco system.

    Oh forgot to mention that permiting companies to make "exclusive" contracts with regions is just wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Fred McTaker (profile), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 3:38am

    Engineers make it work, bureaucrats impede work

    "I'm still hopeful that new technologies will make spectrum scarcity a thing of the past, we still haven't seen enough evidence that the technology really works."

    It will work when it has to work. It doesn't work now because the spectrum monopolies allow the incumbents to stay lazy, and pervade poorly designed hardware with impunity. As soon as you take away their monopolies, they will have to start innovating again.

    These should be required reading when discussing spectrum policy:

    http://www.lessig.org/blog/2007/0 2/internet_policy_deregulating_s.html

    The physical facts dictate that all wireless spectrum is composed of electromagnetic waves of varying frequencies, which is another way of saying they are all different colors. The only confusing aspect is that we can't see most of these colors with the naked eye, and some frequencies have properties that allow them to travel differently through air, liquid, and mass. That doesn't change the fact that they are just colors, subject to the same physical laws that make advanced sensing equipment like eyes and cameras work. Confusing one "signal" for another is the same as confusing a red apple with a nearby red firetruck -- the only limitation is the sensing equipment. The FCC has been in the business of granting color monopolies for almost a century, and keeping the sensing equipment as dumb and blind as possible, and is reluctant to give that job up. Hooray to the Justice Department for giving them a kick!

    If you don't think the technology is already far enough along yet, you also need to read this:


    "The cochlea can perceive a 100-fold range of frequencies -- in humans, from 100 to 10,000 Hz. Sarpeshkar used the same design principles in the RF cochlea to create a device that can perceive signals at million-fold higher frequencies, which includes radio signals for most commercial wireless applications."

    This is a "radio" that can process all frequencies on the entire RF range we use now, simultaneously. You could plug it into a sufficiently powerful computer, and process HDTV, Satellite, HD-Audio/AM/FM, WiFi, and cell phone signals (all #G's) on every network, all at the same time, all in software. This is a chip made in a lab, that can be reproduced in mass just like any other chip.

    The barriers are all bureaucratic -- none of them are physical nor technological limits. At this point, they're not even economic limits -- they're just stupid limits, that help no one except lazy monopolists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    John Doe, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 4:12am

    No right of resell...

    There should be no right to resell the spectrum. That will only lead to investment groups buying the spectrum and reselling at a higher rate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Richard (profile), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 4:18am

    How it should be used - not the same as what it should be used for

    We need to distinguish the concept of "how it should be used" from the concept of "what it should be used for".

    "How it should be used" includes such things as maximum power levels etc.

    "How it should be used" obviously has to be regulated but who uses it and for what really shouldn't be.

    As far as possible spectrum should be available "free". Historically spectrum was scarce and hence had to be highly regulated. At the same time governments saw it as a way to make "free money". Actually that is bad. No one created the spectrum and so no one (not even the government) should make money for merely allocating it. (Although a modest fee to cover the costs of policing the allocation would be OK.)

    Obviously legacy users need continuing protection for the time being - but that should only be at the legacy (low) end of the spectrum.

    Once you move up to higher frequencies the amount of regulation needed should reduce.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 5:12am

    The notion that upstarts will offer more competition and better access... sounds familiar. Reminds me of the small locally-based banks in our area... better service, and more nimble (and better motivated!) than the behemoth bankcorps. Punchline: within a few years, all have been purchased by one or two mega-banks. Selling spectrum allocations has always been a horrible idea, but to make them resellable would simply open the gates to massive consolidation. That would likely turn Clear Channel into "Only Channel".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 5th, 2010 @ 6:46am

    In theory, saying "use it as it best makes money" is a good idea, but in reality, it is often not as easy as all that.

    One of the main reasons for fixing usage for a given frequency range is to assure that others are not affected by interference, incompatible devices, etc. There are certain areas of the spectrum dedicated to "whatever", but those are mostly for things like remote controls, baby monitors, and other devices where no warranties are made as to range and the like.

    When you start talking about things like broadband wireless, the range and the power of the signals requires is significant. The more crowded the spectrum, the more issues come up. The end user devices might have to be more powerful, or require larger directional antennas to make them work properly, etc. You also have to look at the implications to other users in neighboring frequencies, as interference is possible.

    There is much more to the game than just saying "more bandwidth", because bandwidth is in fact one of the scarcest resources.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Gerald, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 7:31am

    Agree with Anti-Mike

    The idea of opening up all spectrum for whatever reason means that certain devices are not going to function, because some idiot toy is going to be the same frequency as my Wi-Fi or my mission-critical communications device, and therefore lives could possibly be lost.

    If you say, "You shouldn't be relying on wireless for mission critical situations", you're a complete idiot. Also, hang up your cell phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    NullOp, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 8:00am

    FCC to DOJ

    FCC: Mind your own business!

    But really, is it about increasing competition or just increasing opportunity for profit? I suspect the latter...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    DH's love child, Jan 5th, 2010 @ 8:53am

    Re: FCC to DOJ

    I disagree. The DoJ has historically been pretty good about not allowing corporate interests to override good public policy. Now I say PRETTY good, they have for example, done a really bad job of nixing mergers between companies that have created a few large national carriers again... sigh.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2010 @ 12:19pm

    Agree with Mike

    I agree that spectrum should be sold off to the highest bidders (i.e. the biggest companies with the most money) to do with as they please. If they just want to sit on it and lock out competition, what's wrong with that? That's just capitalism at work.

    BTW, my owning a large amount of AT&T stock is just a coincidence, it doesn't make me biased at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Manfriend, Jan 7th, 2010 @ 8:42am

    What I want to know is what happened to all those billions and billions of dollars tossed around during the last spectrum auction--why aren't they being applied towards paying off some of our massive debts? Or would that make too much sense or something?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
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