Selling spectrum for a song

Congress is currently considering proposals that would trade very small, short-term revenue generation for an inflexible environment that could inhibit innovation, growth and creativity in tomorrow’s wireless marketplace.
This isn’t just a wonky debate between high-tech enthusiasts and bean-counters — it also matters to America’s creative community, who increasingly depend on access to affordable, high-speed internet in practically every aspect of their lives and careers. These creators are major contributors to local and national economies, and help define America as a global beacon of free expression and entrepreneurship.
Broadband is a proven economic stimulator, but it is still out-of-reach for many. Our nation is also falling further and further behind in terms of broadband speed and quality. Innovation around spectrum could unleash next-generation platforms that could propel America to regain its leadership in information technology, and help us keep pace in a global economy that every day grows more competitive.
The innovation train no longer has a single conductor. Unlicensed wireless technologies like WiFi already comprises nearly two thirds of America’s smartphone and tablet use. Increasingly, businesses and municipalities small and large are turning to unlicensed spectrum to power everything from inventory management systems to energy smart grids. Sweeter spectrum in the TV band could bring even more potent innovations.
If Congress sells off our spectrum resources to big companies like Verizon and AT&T, leaving none for unlicensed uses, those companies are likely to consolidate their control over the market and squeeze out competition.

Less competition means less innovation and less positive return for consumers and enterprising Americans.
Tomorrow’s Willie Nelson should have the opportunity to get maximum value from his great ideas. Access to wireless technologies and applications can help advance that goal for not only creators, but also every other breed of entrepreneur. While Congress might generate some cash now with the proposed auctions, they may also set an artificial cap on economic growth and prosperity.
Consider this Congress’ “Crazy” moment: sell now or wait-and-see. As it turns out, Willie held on to that particular ditty and ended up with one of the single most recognizable — and valuable — songs in the American canon. What will America’s spectrum resources yield in terms of innovation and economic value? Congress would do well to consider that question carefully before handing off this valuable resource.

Casey Rae-Hunter is the Deputy Director of Future of Music Coalition.


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