Spectrum Perspective

By Alex Goldman

May 01, 2008

ISP-Planet's Alex Goldman gives an overview of Michael Calabrese's remarks at Freedom to Connect last month.

Michael Calabrese of the New America Foundation talked common sense on wireless and spectrum issues at Freedom to Connect (F2C) last month.


When powerful lobbies come to Washington, D.C. working for ideas that are not popular, one of their first priorities is to obfuscate the obvious. People who are not already paid for, such as Michael Calabrese of the New America Foundation, play a key role in keeping discourse honest. See, for example, our writeup of the New America Foundation study on the actual value of spectrum sold in How They Got $480 Billion in Spectrum Giveaways.

Much of what Calabrese said at Freedom to Connect may seem obvious to you and me, but his role is important, because what should happen in Washington often doesn't, and common sense solutions to problems are ignored in favor of those solutions that hand out privileges to special interests and their lobbyists.

The recent auction

Auctions, he noted, do not help competition. Most ISPs want more open spectrum, or lightly licensed spectrum similar to the regime for 11 GHz and 18 GHz. "Auctions raise barriers to entry," Calabrese said. "In the recent auction, the DSL duopoly got over 90 percent of the spectrum. The one silver lining of this auction is that we showed that licenses can be conditional."

Of course, the spectrum should have been more open, as New America urged, but that didn't happen. "We proposed that the FCC impose a wholesale access condition on the C block, which is more than what was done."

In fact, the terms governing the conditional access spectrum have some loopholes. If the duopoly wants, it may be able to close the spectrum off. "The jury is still out about how open the spectrum will be."

The Bush administration's internet failure"The big issue is that the public will not have affordable ubiquitous connectivity," Calabrese said. "The Bush administration is reregulating Wall Street in order to avoid being Herbert Hoover."

Returning to the old regime would be a good idea in specturm. "Before licensing was imposed on behalf of the RCA radio monopoly, hundreds and hundreds of small radio stations attempted to share the radio waves. This led to interference, because they did not have the technology that we have today."

In the future, we can get it rightToday, we can share; we have the technology to avoid the negative effects of selling licenses to monopolies that want to hold the spectrum and not use it.

"Together, exclusive auctions and licensing result in underutilization. Every millisecond not used is capacity wasted. Auctions cause scarcity. 95 percent of all spectrum is not used at any given time, including 70 percent of prime beachfront spectrum in downtown areas."

Almost anyone other than the duopoly is interested in using this resource responsibly. "Ironically, the military is mos open to sharing. They now know that they can set down anywhere in the world, sniff out open spectrum, and create ad hoc open networks on the fly."

"Broadcasters are campaining to kill the opportunity for cognitive radio. We need to think beyond passive sensing technologies. We need to provide information for next generation broadcast spectrum usage. We need to ensure that the cost of spectrum no longer can become a barrier to entry for peer to peer networks, community wireless, and innovation."

Calabrese pointed to Meraki, and the back channel also pointed to Open Moko and Trolltech (to be acquired by Nokia) as examples of wireless networking that require open spectrum and can be built by local groups, without massive capital requirements, avoiding the deadening effect on innovation of large companies and expensive buildouts.

Alex Goldman is Managing Editor of ISP-Planet. Story adapted from ISP-Planet.



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