Issa: Don’t sell off airwaves for short-term gains

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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he is tired of selling off public airwaves only to fund a pork-barrel project or make a tiny dent in the deficit.

Selling off chunks of the spectrum to make a little short-term cash, he said on Tuesday, would be like selling off pieces of the Mississippi River or the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

“Public assets for the public good have never been before sold in the way that we deal with spectrum,” he said at a conference pushing for more unlicensed spectrum, which allows Wi-Fi systems and devices like garage door openers to operate.

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“Politicians in Washington zealously get up every morning saying ‘Boy, I can fill a budget loophole or some pork project or some other mistake of billions of dollars by selling more spectrum,' until ultimately we have the equivalent of selling each and every mile of the Mississippi and then wondering why water is not necessarily the way people travel or the way ore is moved,” he added.

Next year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to buy back chunks of the airwaves currently owned by broadcasters and resell them to wireless companies, which need the spectrum to offer high-speed Web access for consumers’ phones and tablets.

Most of the airwaves will be allocated for specific companies, but the FCC will reserve some for unlicensed use to support Wi-Fi and other services. Just how much of the spectrum is unlicensed depends on how much broadcasters sell back to the government.

The federal government will make tens of billions of dollars off of the auction, much of which has already been allocated by Congress for public safety projects and to pay down the deficit. But some tech executives and other critics have worried that it won’t preserve enough spectrum for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed use.

“Here in Washington, the American people have to communicate to their members of Congress and to the administration and to the FCC that it’s your spectrum, and the highest and best use of their spectrum is to make it available for all,” Issa said at an event sponsored by the WifiForward coalition, which includes major companies like Google, Comcast and Best Buy.

“Start explaining to people that it’s their spectrum that is being sold off just as deficits and debt sell off in the name of the next generation,” he added. “We can’t do one in the name of the other. Both have to be tackled.”