The US Needs A New Spectrum Policy

I have written before about open spectrum and the need for a new spectrum policy in the US. Spectrum policy is back in the news because the federal government is soon going to make a bunch of decisions about spectrum that is coming back from the broadcast TV operators.

Our policy for the past thirty years has been to sell the spectrum to the highest bidder and let the goverment pocket the money. This is short term thinking of the worst kind. The incumbent duopolist carriers are always the ones who can afford to pay the most money for the spectrum and they have no incentive to innovate on what they do with the spectrum. So it goes mostly underutilized while the demand for wireless broadband increases exponentially.

All you have to do is look at the massive innovation and performance curves in the rare unlicensed bands (wifi and bluetooth) to see that an open spectrum approach with captialist style competition will create the fastest performance improvements over time.

The President appointed an advisory committee to study our spectrum policy and make some recommendations. That committee reported last year that making more spectrum unlicensed would be the best policy.

The report's authors cited a European study:

freeing 400 megahertz of radio spectrum to be shared using new technologies would be equivalent to an economic financial stimulus of 800 billion euros

This points out the most pernicious aspect of our current spectrum policy. And that is that the spectrum being auctioned off is being priced based on its current value not its potential value that can only be unlocked by the kind of permissionless innovation we see in the unlicensed spectrum. So we not only are we giving the incumbent duopolist carriers more control over our spectrum but we are also selling it at a fraction of what it could be and should be worth.

We need a new spectrum policy in this country and we need it now.