Why you should care about wireless spectrum policy

by Maria Spencer

ConnectSafely Policy Director, Maria Spencer

ConnectSafely Policy Director, Maria Spencer

Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert M. McDowell co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal urging Congress to plan for and support more open spectrum sales. This opinion was published ahead of hearings in the House Energy and Commerce Committee featuring current FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai on the continued oversight of the FCC and the upcoming auction of spectrum scheduled for March of 2016.

Why it matters?

Why is this important for the average consumer? Most Americans want more data, faster speeds, the newest, latest and greatest technology but to get these advantages, more spectrum is needed. Access to spectrum directly impacts data on our smart phones, tablets or any new or emerging gadget described under the “Internet of things.” In the past, Congress has granted the FCC authority to open up and auction spectrum space, but these auctions are not the lion’s share of spectrum since the government still owns, or is the primary user of, almost 70% of the spectrum that could be used for broadband technologies. Because there is so much demand by the general public for more data, the government working with the private sector, should auction off more spectrum. This can be used by real innovators in the technology space to satisfy the consumer demand for cheaper, faster, better technology. That said, Messrs. Genachowski and McDowell made several recommendations about how Congress should proceed with the auction of spectrum. They recommend spectrum sharing, which could make some agencies like the military more efficient and cost effective, and allow for more unlicensed use, which could create more jobs and economic benefits for US companies as well as more data for consumers.

Privacy, security and broad access

Beyond the recommendations in the WSJ, Congress must continue to include privacy and security as part of the discussion. This fall, the FCC will develop additional recommendations to clarify privacy authority of its new Internet rules and Congress should ensure that rulemaking is consistent with Congressional authority.  Congress should ensure that any open authorization for more spectrum include a plan, provisions and resources to increase access to small and rural communities, schools and inner city centers where access may be either a financial challenge or a locational limitation. The auctioning of spectrum should be seen as an investment into opportunities to expand access, diversify STEM education and encourage private investment and innovation. This includes goals and objectives to lower costs and to make systems faster and more efficient in response to consumer demand.

To access more spectrum large government bureaucracies must give up or share access. As private citizens, we must continue to partner with and educate our elected officials about technology and keep our voices in the discussion.

Maria Spencer is ConnectSafely’s Washington, DC-based policy director.


Understanding Federal Spectrum Use