Opinion
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski (R) delviers remarks before the commission voted to adopted controversial Net neutrality rules December 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. The rules put into effect by the commission create two different classes of broadband internet service -- one for fixed networks and another for wireless networks -- due to their technological differences. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 21: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski (R) delviers remarks before the commission voted to adopted controversial Net neutrality rules December 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. The rules put into effect by the commission create two different classes of broadband internet service -- one for fixed networks and another for wireless networks -- due to their technological differences. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)   

America’s real wireless problem isn’t too little WiFi

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Scott Cleland
Chairman, NetCompetition
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      Scott Cleland

      Scott Cleland is Chairman of NetCompetition® a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests and President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies. He is author of the book: Search & Destroy Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.

Concerning wireless spectrum policy, the federal government is totally missing the forest for the trees.

In super-hyping the potential of turning 6-12 MHz of yet-to-be-auctioned TV broadcast spectrum into free “super wifi,” unlicensed “white spaces” someday, the government is totally missing America’s real overriding wireless problem - government spectrum waste, fraud and abuse.

The FCC wouldn’t have to be super-hyping the speculative potential of these meager spectrum “scraps,” if the federal government wasn’t blindly forcing artificial spectrum scarcity on the American private sector by continuing to hoard 85% of the nation’s abundant spectrum natural resource.

If the federal government controlled a reasonable 30% of the nation’s spectrum — comparable to the government’s current 30% control of land in America — the private sector would enjoy an additional ~1400 MHz of spectrum most suitable for broadband use. To put that in perspective, that would be more than a hundred times more spectrum than the FCC is currently super-hyping for “super-WiFi.”

It is scandalous that America’s most valuable 21st century natural resource, spectrum, is still bureaucratically-hoarded by the federal government and kept from the American private sector that: desperately needs it to provide faster broadband service long term; is willing to pay market price for it; and can put it to vastly more efficient, effective and innovative use than the federal government can.

Shockingly, there is no spectrum policy “balance” here when the federal government restricts the American private sector to only 15% of the nation’s radio spectrum suitable for wireless broadband, when the private sector serves 100% of Americans, generates 92% of the nation’s employment, produces 88% of the nation’s GDP, owns 70% of the nation’s land, and uses 99% of the nation’s energy.

What’s wrong with this picture? The FCC and the federal government have been wrongly pointing the finger at the wireless private sector for not enough competition, speed, availability, and affordability, when the single biggest impediment to more wireless competition, speed, availability, and affordability is government waste, fraud and abuse of the nation’s most precious 21st century resource - spectrum.

Concerning wireless broadband and spectrum, the government has been the problem not the solution.

The federal government would do well to try and bring the barest minimum of responsible resource management, budgeting, accountability and oversight to the government’s spectrum use, before it imagines it can better micromanage the private sector’s vastly better and proven spectrum management, utilization and accountability.

In sum, federal government policymakers would do well to remember that the nation’s greatest high-tech successes occurred when the federal government commercialized valuable government assets for the benefit of the nation and the American taxpayer/consumer.

The wireless revolution took off in 1993 when Congress mandated market-based auction of more spectrum so that this essential wireless resource finally could efficiently find its highest use and value.

The Internet revolution did not occur until the federal government, via the National Science Foundation, privatized the operation of the Internet backbone to three private sector communications companies in 1993.

After 23 years of relative obscurity in the federal government, the Internet phenomenon as everyone knows it did not occur until the government put the asset into the private sector to be commercialized and put to its highest use and value.

Unfortunately, government spectrum allocation and utilization is the single most backward, inefficient and unaccountable input that is necessary for the ongoing success of the mobile Internet economy.

It is also scandalous that the federal government’s spectrum mismanagement and dysfunction is tolerated and ignored by the private sector, government watchdogs and Congress.

Is anyone minding the government spectrum store?

Scott Cleland is Chairman of NetCompetition a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests and President of Precursor LLC, a research consultancy for Fortune 500 companies.