Senate panel debates radio spectrum policy reform

IDG News Service |  Networking

Much of Thursday's debate focused on how much of the spectrum should be part of a commons and how much should be sold off to companies. Berry advocated a policy that would provide "certainty, predictability and flexibility" to wireless companies. "I don't think you want to change the rules after billions of dollars have been invested," he said.

But Calabrese suggested that the task force report's exclusive-use recommendations are at odds with the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, guaranteeing all U.S. residents, not just a few companies, freedom of speech.

"The task force's report ... embraces a blueprint for the biggest special-interest windfall in American history," Calabrese added. "The task force essentially recommends giving today's incumbent licensees permanent and exclusive property interests in their frequencies with no compensation at all to the public."

But Gregory Rosston, deputy director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, called for a "market-driven" approach, where the demand for wireless frequencies, not regulation, would determine the cost of licenses. He called on the Senate to move faster than the task force report's recommendation of identifying 100MHz of spectrum in which to allow greater flexibility within five years, and to keep the FCC from piecemealing spectrum policy on a case-by-case basis.

"Some degree of private ownership would reduce substantially some of the problems that have plagued some of the open-ended commons systems: overcrowding and the inability to facilitate a rapid change to new technology," Rosston said.

Kevin Kahn, director of Intel Corp.'s Communications and Interconnect Technology Laboratory, said there's room for both the commons and exclusive-use models in the radio spectrum. Only about 5 percent of the spectrum is licensed, he noted, and new wireless devices coming out in the next few years will be able to dynamically adjust the spectrum they use, to take advantage of unused "white spaces" in the spectrum.

"Our main conclusion is there's a lot of room for experimentation here," Kahn said. "I don't know that any of us have all the answers. It's important for us to set up a regime where that experimentation can take place."

Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey, also urged the committee to reject a "one-size-fits-all" policy. "I think throughout this hearing we should remember that spectrum with all of its electromagnetic waves is a public resource, a public good, and a public asset," Lautenberg said. "With that in mind, spectrum should be treated the same way we treat the nation's other natural, but limited, resources. We manage them through joint public/private partnerships."

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