Taking stock of the nation's airwaves
Wireless spectrum -- The public's hidden natural resource
Learning who has the exclusive right to various frequencies could be a first step to learning how much they now pay and how much they should pay -- how much spectrum is worth. Were we to recover royalties from these resources, we could reduce taxes on actual earnings -- the geonomic solution. These two 2009 articles are from Google’s policy blog, (1) May 4, posted by Richard Whitt, Washington Telecom and Media Counsel, and (2) May 6, by Tom Simonite, online technology editor.
by Richard Whitt and by Tom Simonite
Taking stock of the nation's airwaves
When you're chatting on your cellphone or surfing the Web over Wi-Fi, you’re using radio spectrum, a natural resource, something that here in the U.S. is owned by all of us as American citizens. But which entities are operating in our nation's public airwaves, and where? Are these resources actually being used efficiently and effectively, or is a sizable portion of useful spectrum simply lying fallow?
We cannot conclusively answer these critical questions today, because our government has not taken and published a full inventory of spectrum ownership and use in the United States. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) have introduced a bill in Congress that seeks to do just that. The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act calls on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to take a full inventory of our nation's spectrum resources between the 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands.
The Kerry/Snowe effort to take full stock of our nation's airwaves is a positive development. Often lost in the debate over how best to put our spectrum to use is the fact that these airwaves belong to the American public, not to any corporation or other entity. But without a clear idea exactly whether and how these airwaves are being used, it is difficult to have an informed conversation about the best way to allocate and use spectrum efficiently for the needs of the American people.
In the past decade, Wi-Fi and other innovative uses of our public airwaves have revolutionized wireless communications and triggered great economic and technological growth. Last year's white spaces decision paved the way for better and faster broadband Internet connections. More efficient use of spectrum holds potential for even greater gains. Developing and publishing a detailed inventory of our nation's airwaves would be the first step towards achieving this critically important goal.
Wireless spectrum: A hidden natural resource
Google is backing a political campaign to force the US government to release full details of how one of our most valuable natural resources is being exploited -- radio communications spectrum.
A post on Google's policy blog lauds a bill being introduced to Congress that would require the Federal Communications Commission to "take a full inventory of our nation's spectrum resources between the 300 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands."
You can already see a representation of how the spectrum is divided in the graphic above, or in pdf form here. But the bill would make available full details of who is using which chunks of spectrum for what, and how efficiently. As the Google post puts it, "is a sizable portion of useful spectrum simply lying fallow?"
The internet giant was one of many that lobbied sucessfully to get spectrum freed up by the demise of analogue TV signals allocated to new kinds of mobile devices. That will supposedly allow the development of technology dubbed "Wi-Fi on steroids" by its proponents, and shape our technological future -- allowing faster portable connections and high-speed broadband in remote areas, for example.
Similarly, making it publicly known how the rest of the radio spectrum is being used, and what is left, could change how we communicate for years to come.
JJS: While the potential for techno-progress is great, so is the potential for social progress. Once we the people recover the annual rental value of spectrum, users will be paying enough that none of them could afford to hoard any, so more voices should have a chance to express their point of view. Also, getting royalties makes it possible to cut taxes on our useful efforts. What’s not to like? Geonomics is powerful stuff.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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