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Oral Statement of Harold Feld, Legal Director of Public Knowledge On behalf of the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition
Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Hearing On: “Promoting Broadband, Jobs and Economic Growth through Commercial Spectrum Auctions”
June 1, 2011
Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Eshoo and members of the Subcommittee,
I am Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge. I am pleased to speak with you this morning on behalf of the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition about buttons and button holes.
Buttons are tangible objects. Button holes are simply a designated space. Neither can do much good without the other. So it is with spectrum policy.
Most of the discussion this morning has been about the buttons -- licensed spectrum to be auctioned off for millions, perhaps billions, of dollars to major carriers for their recognizable commercial services. Just as buttons need button holes, a complete spectrum policy needs the equivalent of button holes -- the unlicensed white spaces. That's the topic I wish to address today because it is crucial to the goals of economic development and global competitiveness.
In order to meet these objectives though, Congress must avoid viewing spectrum policy strictly through the lens of a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score. In fact, I will go further and state that if Congress passes legislation that forces the FCC to only focus on raising revenue for the federal government, the spectrum “crisis” the wireless industry is encountering today will become a spectrum Armageddon resulting in higher costs, stifled innovation, and reduced global competitiveness.
White spaces are unique in spectrum policy. They have been enthusiastically supported by Republican FCC chairmen and commissioners and today's Democratic chairman and commissioners. White spaces exist to without preconceived uses and so are open to any entrepreneur or technologist with a good idea. They are the most deregulatory approach to spectrum policy that we have. As FCC Commissioner McDowell said, the Commission's actions approving TV White spaces " helps to bring more broadband to consumers as quickly as innovation, rather than the government, will allow.”
And the results have been spectacular for the U.S. economy. The short history of unlicensed spectrum has demonstrated that even spectrum bands that were formerly considered “junk bands” could yield tens of billions of dollars in economic gains and activity. The unlicensed spectrum now being considered, in the prime 700 MHz band, promises to surpass that previous success.
Allowing for an additional allocation of national unlicensed spectrum under the 1 GHz band, with its superior propagation characteristics of penetration and long distance, would allow for the creation of gigabit-capacity wireless LANs in schools, offices, high-density residential areas and mesh networks capable of several miles of coverage at a fraction of the cost of current Wi-Fi technology. While such gains will not show up in a CBO score, they will result in increased revenues for the federal government through investment, job creation, and economic productivity on an annual basis.
Rural areas will be able to be served with high-capacity wireless broadband service. The low barriers to entry for unlicensed allow these rural providers to serve their communities without winning licenses at auction, which they cannot afford to do. Indeed, areas that cannot be profitably served with licensed spectrum because of the cost of winning licenses can be served sustainably, and without Universal Service Fund subsidies, with white spaces spectrum. Already starting to see fruits of projects around country in places as diverse as Claudville, Va., pop. 916, to the much larger Houston.
In order for this future to come about, for there to be spectrum for smart grid coordination, machine-to-machine communications, inventory tracking and the rest, Congress has to make certain that the white spaces are protected by giving the FCC discretion in structuring and conducting auctions.
Providing the FCC with flexible authority to conduct incentive auctions and allowing the agency to pursue a broad approach to spectrum policy that is not exclusively tied to raising revenues will be the most effective means of promoting broadband, job creation, and economic growth.
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