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Comments from Frankston, Reed, and Friends

Thursday, June 24, 2004

DPR at 9:33 PM [url]:

Kerry's plan is not as bad as I thought, but still flawed policy

In my prior post, I based my comments on John Kerry's campaign press release. Several people (including Tom Kalil) suggested I dig deeper, and indeed there is more to the proposal, which can be read online at http://www.johnkerry.com/pdf/pr_2004_0624b.pdf.

I'm still very uncomfortable with the proposal for auctioning of permanent spectrum rights, at any price. Here's hoping that these auctions are time-limited (say for 10 years at most, which is three generations of technological change, at least), and revocable. $30 Billion is too cheap.

Providing for enhanced emergency services is a great concept, but allocating more spectrum is not likely to be the best answer for achieving improved interoperability. If you want interoperability, you want to force all services to use the same bands, in a scalable manner. Today's emergency services use their bands incredibly inefficiently. If they had the money to swap out whole systems and replace them, they could increase capacity and interoperability and capability by orders of magnitude by consolidating all emergency services bands into one shared network, and even more if they had the ability to request use of non-essential bands in an emergency (by automatic protocol-based negotiation).

So paradoxically, giving emergency services new bands without providing the funding for new equipment will likely further balkanize emergency services, leaving the incompatible legacy equipment out there. (consider the DoD, which still deploys radio systems from pre-WWII, I'm told, with all their warts and flaws, because upgrading comms is not as sexy as buying new guns and rockets and jets). Instead of new spectrum, Homeland Security and police need new technology. And they need to benefit from the mass market, rather than having $3,000 radios that can barely do voice because of incompatible market balkanization.

I'm happy to see that "some" spectrum will be allocated to unlicensed use in the TV bands, but if that spectrum is used merely to let people do 20 mile range cordless phones, which are not interoperable or networked, all we'll end up with "spectrum pollution".

Finally, the idea that a bad idea like permanent selling of a public good to private owners is redeemed by a good use like funding basic research is a classic political ploy. There is a history of this "con game" in spectrum politics. Sometimes the "good cause" that the profits are allocated to is "educating our kids", sometimes the "good cause" is letting the military sell off its spectrum to pay for defense costs. I'm even told that the grant 700 MHz spectrum to "homeland security" was a fig leaf so that the cellular operators could avoid creating a glut of spectrum that would enable new competitors in the cellular market, thereby keeping profits high without having to invest in a next generation of services.

When you are offered a gift horse (free auction gigabucks), you might wonder which lobbyists are pushing this.

DPR at 1:38 PM [url]:

John Kerry wants to auction off your spectrum

John Kerry's just released technology plan, mostly applehood and motherpie, contains exactly one specifc proposal:
Kerry's plan will be paid for by accelerating the transition to digital television. This will not only raise $30 billion at public auction to fund science and technology innovation, but also free up spectrum to provide wireless broadband to all first responders and expand the spectrum that is available for unlicensed wireless broadband.
While Michael Powell is exploring the value of unlicensed spectrum to stimulate innovation at the same time as pushing secondary markets, Kerry panders to the wealthy and powerful. I'm willing to hear other interpretations, but the Democrats seem to me to be no friends of opening up the spectrum for technological innovation and more democratic access to it. Instead he wants to privatize the spectrum, letting the wealthy and powerful avoid paying taxes to increase basic science funding for the good of all, and also letting them get control of the spectrum, too.

The people of the country deserve a better deal, at least in my opinion.

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