Small companies bemoan barriers to wireless

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Government regulations and a scarcity of bandwidth are two of the biggest problems that small businesses run into when trying to take advantage of new technology, executives and analysts told House lawmakers on Tuesday.

Those hurdles can prevent some companies from taking advantage of new and improved tools, they said.

“There are tremendous opportunities for small businesses in a number of different areas if we can overcome the obstacles that currently exist,” Darrell West, head of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation told the House Small Business Committee.

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“Small firms face a number of different problems in the areas of regulation, spectrum availability, infrastructure and access.”

Members of the committee heard from executives from companies that use wireless technology on farms, for transportation and to connect solar-powered garbage cans that compact trash and recycling.

“The regulatory process is cumbersome for a small company,” said Michael Feldman, the vice president of engineer at BigBelly Solar, which makes trash cans that communicate with a central database.

“Small businesses, entrepreneurs that are trying to get into and use a wirelessly-connected product can really be overwhelmed with not just the paperwork but the certifications and the testing that needs to go into it.”

He asked the lawmakers to help create more online educational resources to prepare business owners for what they have to face.

Another obstacle facing small businesses that want to use wireless technology, all agreed, was availability of the nation’s airwaves, known as the spectrum.

“As the demand in wireless services continues to grow, the federal government must work to reallocate unused spectrum to make more of it available for wireless broadband and innovative devices like these,” said committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.). 

Next year, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to hold an "incentive auction" to reshuffle use of the nation's spectrum.

West said that Congress should get involved to help small companies compete.

“We recommend that legislation should make sure that small businesses have a fair shot of competing for unused spectrum and also that entrepreneurs from diverse walks of life have an opportunity to bid on the spectrum,” he said.

Graves said that the wireless connection of devices, known as the “Internet of Things,” could be a “game changer” for companies — if the obstacles can be removed.

New technology “means thousands of new jobs created by small innovative firms as well as a variety of industries and new tools for small businesses to improve their operations,” he said.