As part of the ACT Fly-In this year, I was recently given the opportunity to go to Washington and meet with some of our law makers to discuss several issues in the IT arena. One of them is an issue I’ve been discussing with people for a while way before this event, and that’s the issue of spectrum shortages. I had some good discussions with several congressmen, senators, and staffers and thought it’d be good to touch base on it here. For those of you that think this may not affect you, let me tell you that it already has and you’ve even made it every-day topics of discussion and argument. Our daily discussions of dropped calls, cellular dead-zones, and slow wi-fi is certain proof that the problem of bandwidth is alive and well and most certainly getting worse. As we move into the 4G era, towers are needing to be upgraded and even new ones built. But the development of the physical infrastructure is useless without the invisible commodity that rides on it, and this is spectrum. Put simply, spectrum is a frequency range that is used by wireless communication. Also known as Wireless Spread Spectrum, it consists of the frequency range 3ghz and 300ghz with its availability is limited and its usage assigned through licensing. It’s considered a national resource, and because of that, subject to governmental administration. Such administration and management is necessary to limit what’s known as radio spectrum pollution. Since 1934, authority for spectrum management is granted to the President for any federal use and to the FCC for all domestic use. Companies with spectrum assignment are the regulators for that frequency and have been known to “sit on it” even when not in use. This lead to congress passing the Spectrum Act requiring spectrum licensees to share spectrum and participate in wireless broadband spectrum actions. As I stated earlier, though considered a national resource, it unlike water and gas because it is reusable.
The government incentive auctions have allowed for unused spectrum, much of it held by over-the-air broadcasters after the switch-to-digital, to be released and “purchased” by licensees willing to light it up. This is a win-win situation because the current licensees of unused spectrum profit from the auction proceeds, and it opens up new business opportunities for new services. These “new services” are us, the app developers. The apps we’re writing today are more connected than ever. It’s funny how for a long time, I taught developers how to write architect apps for disconnected use, but that’s becoming more and more difficult with the requirements users (and customers) are placing on “the cloud”. We’re going to see our bandwidth problems gets worse before they get better as more and more applications that require the internet in their core usage are developed. This is ever-so-evident in today (and tomorrow’s) tablets. Nearly every application uses the cloud in one way or another. Media streaming from cloud storage versus local storage will be the next big challenge. Devices are offering no on-board memory increase in favor or more and more cloud storage. Apple’s iPad is on its third iteration and its maximum capacity has remained the same since its introduction. Apple themselves say the play to open the iTunes Match service to video by the end of this year. This will result in a enormous weight on the carrier lines, making the need for more spectrum activation even more critical.
The incentive auctions should continue but not hindered by unnecessary regulation in the interest of a “level playing field”. And the FCC should readily approve spectrum deals that are in front of them, like Verizon’s bid to buy out and build out spectrum from the cable companies. It shouldn’t lay dormant. If purchasers of unused spectrum have the capacity to contribute to the marketplace, provide innovation, better coverage, and more jobs, they should be allowed to do so. Getting in the middle of this can literally bottleneck the Internet and the cell-lines, and today this is not a trivial thing. There is a way to get involved and get your opinion heard on topics that are important to you. Gone are the days where we need to run to the library to use the encyclopedia to research something. Everything we need is literally at our fingertips, but to remain at all our fingertips, the technology must be allowed to grow and progress and not be stalled by people with incomplete information. ACT offered me the unique opportunity to actually discuss this with the people that make our laws. What this taught me was that we don’t have to be a “cast the vote and walk away” people.
Time will tell if our discussions will result in success, but I for one was impressed for how I was received; even in offices for which I was not a constituent. I try to be optimistic in our system of government, despite the partisan ship that does and will always take place, and despite whether or not I agree with what certain parties are doing. My frequent travels abroad constantly reaffirm that optimism. This one topic was of particular fascination to me when I first educated myself on it, and became a constant interest as I followed the legislative actions covering it. I do feel it is one that affects everyone in the technology business and when it comes to infrastructure construction, innovation, and application development, it affects the country as a whole.