Wanted | More Internet Without Wires
Working on technology policy satisfies the aspiring polymath within me. To be really good at tech policy, you need a significant grasp on engineering, law, economics, as well as the current political zeitgeist. While I generally write about African tech policy [here is my draft white paper on infusing the new USAID w/ the values and competencies of the African Digerati], I've also been thinking about how President-Elect Obama can choose regulatory policies that bring Americans more and cheaper Internet without wires.
This winter term, I took Yochai Benkler's Harvard Law School winter term course Communications and Internet Law and Policy. The goal of the course is to write a series of white papers to the new Administration on tech issues.
Our first white paper, directed to the FCC, presents a practical guide to expanding America's spectrum commons [the part of the airwaves that any wireless device could use]. Specifically, we analyze the FCC's recent white spaces order, and propose guidelines for managing the D-Block and AWS-3. Executive summary is below:
Across the Airwaves: Policy Initiatives for Expanding Wireless Opportunities Through Unlicensed Spectrum
Building on the momentum of the recent white spaces ruling and other resurfaced discussions about wireless, the FCC has a unique opportunity to designate the vacant 700MHz D-Block and the AWS-3 spectrum bands for unlicensed use, sparking a new generation of wireless innovation and creating new jobs while building out critical infrastructure to underserved communities and public safety officials across America.
This paper presents a practical guide for expanding America's spectrum commons. Part 1 situates broadband access as a critical input into a competitive and innovative economy, and describes the pressing need for America to reverse the slowing rate of broadband subscriber growth. This section describes wireless as a potential "third broadband pipe" to compete with incumbent providers and argues that transitioning from a property framework to a commons framework for spectrum management will lead to increased innovation, broadband penetration and consumer choice.
Part 2 offers a substantive analysis of the recent FCC white spaces order in light of the goal of using this spectrum to support low-cost rural access, advanced mesh networks and wireless distribution of in-home content. While applauding the ruling as a critically important step, this section recommends policy changes that will further the success of this spectrum, including increasing the frequency of testing new white spaces devices to increasing the fixed 40mW power level and changing the private-sector approach to geo-location database.
Part 3 argues that the recent D-Block and AWS-3 auction processes are built around special interests and are thus fundamentally flawed. This section recommends that the FCC drop the auction process entirely, and designate the bands for unlicensed use, subject to strict device testing, designed to limit the likelihood of interference. The D-Block should be converged with the adjacent public safety band, and the FCC should help create an interoperable standard that would maximize the use of these bands while ensuring that public safety communications are afforded priority during an emergency. Further, the FCC should work with Congress and the Executive to provide grants and bonds to local governments and private companies to build-out networks for the public safety community. Similarly, federal bonds should support municipalities that seek to use the AWS-3 band to build out and subsidize wireless connectivity for underserved communities.
In conclusion, the purpose of this white paper is to summarize the debates of three major opportunities available to build a spectrum commons in the United States, and to offer concrete policy solutions to the FCC that are immediately actionable. It aims to bring a non-partisan and academic perspective to the discussion, on topics that are of great interest and importance both to the FCC and the new Congress and President, and offer clear roads to achieving their stated goals.
Labels: technology policy