Blog Post

YES! Congress isn’t killing white spaces broadband before it’s born

Congress has reached a compromise on key wireless spectrum issues that had the potential to put the kibosh on innovation and competition when it came to both mobile broadband and unlicensed spectrum. The House and Senate had proposed language in a bill that interfered with the FCC’s ability to set the terms of a proposed auction for a portion of the digital TV spectrum, and also prevented the agency from allocating unlicensed spectrum that could be used for white spaces broadband or even more airwaves for Wi-Fi.

But on Thursday legislators reached a compromise that ensures that the FCC will be able to set spectrum auction rules, which means it will have the freedom to ensure that AT&T (s T) and Verizon (s VZ) don’t walk away with the lion’s share of the new spectrum (after it sets a public rulemaking). Of course, the rules that are currently being proposed for that auction still leave the value of those airwaves for mobile broadband in doubt. Now it just has to vote on the legislation tomorrow.

From a tech perspective it’s the compromise on unlicensed spectrum that’s the most important. The law will acknowledge that the FCC will have the authority to designate spectrum as unlicensed in the TV band and beyond — meaning Congress can’t demand that if the FCC gets airwaves it has to auction them the highest bidder. Yes, such an action ensures more money for the U.S. Treasury (and presumably a boon to taxpayers), but it also means that technologies that could rely on unlicensed airwaves may never come to fruition. And, those technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and others arguably offer consumer, business and economic benefits that offset the loss to the U.S. Treasury.

3 Responses to “YES! Congress isn’t killing white spaces broadband before it’s born”

  1. Have mixed feelings on this Stacey, what are your thoughts on below:

    1. Apparently the VZW-sponsored verbiage would have been worse so perhaps dodged a bullet there.

    2. However this seems very undefined – basically the mechanisms undefined and therefore tbd if this is really net good or net bad?

    3. Do we have that much confidence in how current and future FCCs will make the decisions that really matter, or will the VZWs of the world simply pay top dollar and do nothing with the spectrum as pure defense for their monopolies? It is also easy to make “requirements” that become prohibitive for smaller companies to comply with…

    4. Can we argue that the more unlicensed spectrum the better and if we need more licensed then we should re-claim it from all the unused licensed spectrum? What could software defined radios and similar innovation do if left alone in unlicensed spectrum?

    • I definitely believe we need a use-it-or-lose-it clause with big teeth. That could go a long way, IMO, to preventing some of the hoarding on the front end and give taxpayers a way to reclaim what hoarding still would slip through.

    • “What could software defined radios and similar innovation do if left alone in unlicensed spectrum?”

      That’s the 64 billion dollar question. White Spaces has potential beyond Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so it’s not really compelling to argue that it’s just a place for more of the same. There are unanswered technical questions about SDR, so some work needs to be done before a strong case can be made for exclusive spectrum assignments for non-exclusive uses.