Technology

Selling spectrum for a song

Everyone’s wallet gets light from time to time. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Willie Nelson was so broke, he sold the rights to several of his most well-known songs for less than what a full tank of gas would cost today. “I needed fifty dollars!” he later recalled. In hindsight, the idea of letting the rights to “Crazy” go for a paltry ten bucks seems, well, crazy. Unfortunately Congress may be on the verge of making the same sort of short-sighted mistake with its proposed plan to sell off TV broadcast spectrum as a method of raising a small amount of revenue in the short-term.
 
The shift to digital has opened up opportunities in the old over-the-air TV band. This part of the radio spectrum could foster innovative technologies and help bring more affordable broadband to hard-to-cover areas. That is, if the spectrum isn’t locked down by America’s dominant mobile carriers.
 
In the face of economic hardship, iffy decisions can be too easily justified. Currently, policymakers — including the ballyhooed Super Committee — are exploring ways to put some much-needed cash in the US Treasury. Selling America’s spectrum to established industry players might seem like a fine idea at the moment. But it could leave us singing the blues down the line.

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A goal we should all share: A 21st century FCC

The technology and communications sector is the most innovative in our country—it deserves the most innovative and open government agency. 

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has taken some steps to open his agency’s processes to the public. However, only Congress can make permanent these reforms and others to ensure that the FCC is the kind of accountable federal agency that taxpayers deserve.

To that end, the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology today (Wednesday 16th Nov) will examine a bill we recently introduced, the FCC Process Reform Act, that would put good government reforms into law for the current Commission—and for all those to come in the future.

As of this summer, 1,351,898 consumer complaints, 5,328 petitions from industry stakeholders, and 4,034 license applications and renewals had been pending at the FCC for more than two years.

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House bill threatens new technology innovation and America jobs

There’s a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that could determine the future of how we use the Internet. On November 16, the House Judiciary Committee will meet to discuss the Stop Online Piracy Act, referred to as SOPA. SOPA and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP ACT (PIPA), sound innocuous enough and their goal is a good one—stopping offshore, online piracy and copyright infringement.
 
Unfortunately, this legislation severely threatens lawful, U.S. technology industries by overturning the existing laws that have helped fuel the tech boom of the last decade and instituting new regulations which would stifle innovation and job creation.  Both bills gut the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which for over a decade has helped Internet companies grow and flourish.  The DMCA is one of the big reasons companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter weren’t crushed in their early days by harassing lawsuits.
 

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Keep the Internet free and open

From the perspective of the small, competitive telecom carrier, Net neutrality carries great weight. My company is among a relatively small but entrenched cadre of competitive “common carriers” as licensed by a decades-old regulatory structure oddly enough borne out of AT&T’s original “legalized” monopoly. This regulatory structure creates a relatively even playing field for carriers like ours to compete against the likes of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast – a brilliant mix of competition and regulatory structure. Otherwise, there would just be a handful of choices in the market – even though in practice this is mostly the net result, as a vast majority of consumers and business utilize four or five primary carriers for their landline or cellular service. 

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Congress needs to pass rogue sites bill to protect the Internet

Legislation is pending before Congress to combat a dangerous form of Internet fraud and abuse. Criminals are using rogue websites – often cunningly designed to resemble legitimate online destinations – to sell counterfeit goods of all kinds, as well as to offer pirated copies of copyrighted materials. By flooding the U.S. market with illicit products, these sites steal U.S. jobs, undermine our economy, and threaten consumer health and safety. These operations are often set up overseas, in countries like China that show little respect for intellectual property (IP), and are therefore effectively beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement.

Rogue sites legislation—the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (S. 968) and the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261), propose measures that would enhance the tools available to fight these rogue websites and the damages they cause.  If passed, the legislation would authorize the Justice Department to ask federal courts to order Internet service providers to block access to sites that have been determined to be “dedicated to [the] infringement” of IP rights.

The bills contain strict proof requirements for the “rogue site” determination, as well as strong due process safeguards to reduce any risk to legitimate online activities. But recently, a few opponents of the legislation have raised another objection:  that the bill “DNS blocking” technique of blocking access to specified websites—regardless of how carefully it is done and how closely it is supervised by federal courts—is risky, unprecedented, and threatens to “break the Internet.”

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Use the market to allocate spectrum

Congress is now considering legislation to grant the FCC new authority to hold voluntary incentive auctions for spectrum.  This legislation would alleviate shortages of spectrum that are threatening to hold back the development of a wireless broadband platform capable of competing with wireline platforms.  It would boost the economy and advance our progress toward a more efficient, market-oriented spectrum regime.
 
The incentive-auction idea, which came out of the Obama Administration’s Broadband Task Force, is aimed at freeing up some of the 120 MHz of spectrum currently used by broadcast TV to make it available for the new wireless uses—primarily broadband—that consumers (and businesses) are demanding.  The benefits of such a move are clear:  while wireless broadband use is soaring even though consumers have to pay for it, only about 10 percent of TV viewers watch over over-the-air broadcasting even though it is free. 

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LightSquared harms GPS

LightSquared has been trying for nearly a year to show that it can provide new broadband services without seriously undermining the critical GPS uses and applications Americans rely on every day. It has consistently failed to make its case. But that hasn’t slowed down a LightSquared public relations barrage proclaiming solution after solution.  

This time around it’s new equipment that provides a technical fix for interference, “developed in days” by a small GPS company that has a very large commercial interest in LightSquared being allowed to proceed with its proposed nationwide terrestrial broadband network. Earlier this week, Dr. Javad Ashjaee, the developer of the claimed new technology, declared in The Hill that, “Technology has solved the problem, now we just have to wait for the politicians to catch up.” [LightSquared and GPS can coexist, 10/18/2011].

What many of the politicians Dr. Ashjaee so readily dismisses are doing is something LightSquared and Dr. Ashjaee need to emulate, and that’s wait for the facts to be established by real evidence, not press releases.

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LightSquared and GPS can coexist

There is a fascinating debate playing out in Washington that will impact nearly every American. It is over whether the federal government should allow an upstart company called LightSquared to enter the telecom market as a new national wireless broadband provider.

Anyone with a cell phone, computer or a tablet, should be paying attention, because LightSquared is proposing to build something that currently does not exist: a high-speed wireless system that reaches almost every corner of America, including underserved rural areas and over-capacity urban areas.

LightSquared proposed investing $14 billion in private dollars on a plan that would bring wireless broadband to 260 million Americans by 2015, and create 15,000 jobs a year over the five-year build out of the network. LightSquared is a satellite company, and its unique model would create the nation’s first broadband system that uses a combination of satellite and cell tower technology. Because satellite signals are ubiquitous, using them as a back up to terrestrial service would eliminate the massive service holes that still exist all over America, bringing high-speed internet for the first time to vast swaths of the country that have never had it.

But of course, nothing is that easy – especially in Washington. The slice of spectrum the government licensed to LightSquared is next to the spectrum allocated to GPS, which is used broadly in America for both public and commercial purposes. And the GPS industry has launched a mighty lobbying and public relations campaign, rife with scare tactics designed to stoke partisan opposition and stop LightSquared.

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The problem with PIPA: the Protect IP Act

The self-appointed innovators and their advocates who are pushing the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are indeed inventive in one key regard -- their propaganda achieves new heights of doublespeak.  Or perhaps the irony is lost on Tom Feeney as he cries “Innovation!'” in his efforts to enact policy that would undermine the greatest engine of creation humanity has ever known: the Internet.

The entertainment industry's supposed creatives are reprising an awfully familiar role as they push PIPA:  Remember when "home taping was killing music" at the dawn of the cassette recorder era?  Rather than catch up with the times, these lumbering dinosaurs want to drag the rest of us back into prehistory -- Feeney once even advocated withholding federal funding from universities whose students download copyrighted content.

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Congress needs to shut down rogue websites

Article I of the Constitution authorizes Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  The philosophy is typically American – give authors and innovators property rights for their creations and, in return, America receives more and better innovation. The statement is, perhaps, the highest expression of free market capitalism and property protection anywhere in the Constitution.

Experience tells us that this philosophy works, but only when the property rights are secured by the rule of law.  Permitting thieves to siphon off the value of the property undermines both the system and the individual’s incentive to create, innovate and develop.  Property owners rely on law enforcement and the courts to protect them from that illegal misappropriation.

Today, the intellectual property of any creation placed online is threatened, and America's innovators must have assurance that their products will not be used without their permission.  Too many websites are being operated by sophisticated pirates for the purpose of stealing America's most innovative and creative products.  These often elaborate and well-designed sites appear legitimate but are actually criminal enterprises that sell unsafe counterfeit products like prescription drugs or faulty electronics, provide illegal downloads of copyrighted materials like movies or music, and, in some cases, are involved in identity theft and the spread of malicious computer viruses.

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