What Is An "Aggressive Tech Agenda"?

The WSJ has a story in its Washington Wire column that says Senator Kerry Promises An Agressive Tech Agenda. The basis of the story is a talk Senator Kerry was giving to the cable execs assembled in DC for their annual industry gathering. The story goes on to talk about the $7.2bn that the gov't is going to spend as part of the stimulus bill to "deliver broadband to rural consumers who can't get it and urban americans who can't afford it."

I don't think spending $7.2bn to build out wired broadband to rural and urban communities is an "agressive tech agenda". I think its nuts. There's a better way that was alluded to in the end of the WSJ piece:

Kerry and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine have
co-sponsored legislation that would require the government to inventory
the nation’s airwaves and see if the spectrum is being used
efficiently. The report would be the first step toward future
government action to remove “spectrum squatters,” freeing airwaves for
high-speed Internet or other wireless services.

The fact is that wireless spectrum is not being used efficiently except in the unregulated bands (like the band that wifi runs in). We need open spectrum in this country and we need it now. If we unleased entrepreneurs and engineers on the spectrum by opening it right now, we would solve the rural and urban access issues easily. It would take some time, maybe five years, maybe a bit more, but not much longer. We'd save the $7.2bn (it's too late to save that, it will be spent digging trenches and doing things the old way) and we'd get better, faster, and more reliable WIRELESS broadband.

My mentor on this issue is Tom Evslin, who is now the stimulus czar for the State of Vermont and who has written on open spectrum often. I am particularly fond of this post – Internet 2.0 is Open Spectrum.

Ten years from now the idea of licensing swatches of the radio spectrum for private use will seem quaintly obsolete.  Most
spectrum will be available for any entity – including individuals – to
use so long as the rules for the use of that spectrum are observed.  Today almost all usable frequencies are licensed to private license holders or reserved for specified public uses.

I am glad that Senator Kerry recognizes that all this "reserved spectrum" is a huge impediment to innovation and better connectivity. If he really wants to pursue an "agressive tech agenda" then the first step would be to push hard and fast for open spectrum.

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#Politics#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Paul

    I wish I had the same confidence in Kerry/Snowe that you have. I am more concerned this is a way to reclaim and then auction more bandwidth. Rather then expand and make permanent more white spaces.

    1. fredwilson

      I sure hope notAnd I do have confidence in the FCC now that Julius is there

  2. Mike Evans

    I remember a story on NPR several years ago about an entrepreneur who was building a wireless backbone in West Virginia. Here is the story: http://bit.ly/6jLmA

  3. turph

    I am amazed that other rural states are not joining the fight. Having lived remote I can attest that a huge segment of the population is left out or dealing with satellite internet and knowing there is no chance of cable or dsl monopolies willing to run the last mile.Also your ny governor is proposing a fee to mail in your tax return forcing people to efile – how can internet service not be a utility?

  4. Tony_Alva

    Sorry to poop in your pot, but this is NEVER going to happen, at least with spectrum in the most desirable bands where current wireless operators hold licenses. Too much money has been spent on these licenses to suddenly be “taken back” by the gub’ment.There will of course be more open spectrum made available and that will be cool, but the fact remains that even as wireless services become more ubiquitous, there will still be a need for operators of these networks. Same goes for this “new” idea, there will still need to be networks built at huge costs.This position of yours also flies in the face of the grandest spectrum squatters of them all: broadcast radio license holders who are going digital without giving back ANY freed up bandwidth whatsoever. You want your “open spectrum” to dabble with, there’s a great place to start.

    1. fredwilson

      We don’t need that muchLook what has been done in the wifi band and that isn’t even very good spectrum

  5. Tom Evslin

    Fred:Thanks for the nice mention. We are, of course, competing for a share of that $7.2b here in Vermont to go past our old (2 years ago) dream of access everywhere in Vermont to 100% penetration (of the willing). Haven’t yet gotten a proposal for a whitespace demonstration project here in Vermont but would certainly look seriously at supporting such a proposal for NTIA funding. Easy to get an idea to me at tom.evslin at state.vt.us.

  6. Shane

    I think that this whole business of the government subsidizing the growth of private companies is complete crap, personally. If they want to expand into rural areas, let the cable companies do it with their earnings, not my tax dollars. It’s times like these that I wish I had a powerful lobbyist…

  7. DanInJackson

    Yes, fight the government’s inefficiencies by listening to a “stimulus czar”…As far as an open spectrum, refer to the second to last paragraph in the link from which your excerpt by your stimulus czar is made. So a lengthy article dedicated to how great open spectrum will be has no answers at all addressing it’s biggest hurdle.If I had any money I’d bet against the stimulus czar’s vision of open spectrum in 10 years. It will most likely be more restricted. What needs to happen is a disruptive technology, not reliance on bureaucracy.Or a dissolution of the bureaucracy, but I see that a hell of a lot more unlikely than open spectrum in 10 years.

    1. fredwilson

      Don’t diss Tom. He’s the real deal. Two time successful entrepreneur, both software and VOIP services. He also built the email business for Microsoft and the first big commercial consumer ISP business.

      1. DanInJackson

        I didn’t mean to diss Mr. Evslin. I do mean to diss your choice of gospel. You are relying on an agent of the system to bring down the system.I am sure Mr. Evslin is more than qualified to spend tax payer money wisely. But I don’t get the warm fuzzies about an open spectrum advocate who was indoctrinated or at least surrounded by the anti competition ethos that Microsoft and AT&T foster.Hes got a great record of turning ideas into successes, but I don’t see how that qualifies him to lead a radical change in spectrum licensing.

        1. fredwilson

          If you met him you would see it in spades. He’s a radical in many ways

    2. Phanio

      You said; “What needs to happen is a disruptive technology, not reliance on bureaucracy” – Couldn’t agree more. What types of things are being (could be) done to be disruptive?

      1. fredwilson

        You are not going to get open spectrum without going through washington

  8. Morgan Warstler

    I actually have founded two rural wireless companies, one on the back of a grant from the RUS/USDA.If we’re trying to stimulate things, and hell bound to spend the money, running “plugin and go” hacked-linksys-style based wireless mesh networks inside all urban housing developments would do quite a bit more to help the digital have-nots. There are tons of urban poor who need it far more.And frankly, I’m slightly annoyed how quickly you jumped onto the bandwagon of stealing the spectrum private business paid for in government run auctions. If they wanted to require immediate deployment, they should have set the terms.Now if you will support paying 3x highest price for a license and calling it eminent domain – fine. But let’s start there, otherwise frankly, I’m much more concerned about protecting private property interests against tech socialism.

    1. fredwilson

      I’m not arguing for taking back spectrum that’s been paid for. I’m for taking back spectrum that has not been paid for and its not being well utilized

      1. Morgan Warstler

        So you are talking about allowing the private usage of government military local community education spectrum? Sweet!! I’m also for selling off all the public lands as well. Can I get you on that bandwagon?

        1. fredwilson

          More like the white spaces in between the TV frequencies

          1. Morgan Warstler

            Well I think this is a far cry from what is being advocated by Tom Evslin. I think he has a far more aggressive (read socialist) agenda, no?To your point though:”On November 4, 2008, the FCC voted 5-0 to approve the unlicensed use of white space[8], thereby silencing opposition from broadcasters. The actual Second Report and Order was released ten days later and contains some serious obstacles for the development and use of TV Band Devices as they are called by FCC. Devices must both consult an FCC-mandated database to determine which channels are available for use at a given location, and must also monitor the spectrum locally once every minute to confirm that no legacy wireless microphones, video assist devices or other emitters are present. If a single transmission is detected, the device may not transmit anywhere within the entire 6 MHz channel in which the transmission was received. It is hoped that, within a year, this new access will lead to more reliable WiFi and other technologies.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…I can totally get behind white space usage even a bit more aggressive than this, as long as it doesn’t affect digital TV thats fine. But I’m not sure we’re actually there. And Wimax will cut into that need quite a bit as well.But again, this seems to be a much smaller argument than your original post. I’m not kidding about urban development wifi. Just having the Internet in there really cheap would change countless lives.

          2. fredwilson

            What do you make of this post by my partner Bradhttp://www.unionsquareventu…

          3. Morgan Warstler

            From a pure theory technical perspective, I totally grok the argument.But that’s not my point. The spectrum is either owned by private concerns or public bodies. For publicly owned stuff, have at it. And whilst we can make a seemingly pro-market argument for going open spectrum on the privately owned stuff, we cannot use that as a cloak for a socialist agenda.Brad writes, “The first question to ask about spectrum policy is “are we using spectrum efficiently today?””That is not the first question.The first questions is,”are we willing to make the current spectrum holders INCREDIBLY rich with obscene “we’ll pay anything” profits, so we can buy it back up and do these tremendous open spectrum things?” That would be a GREAT argument for us all to sit thru… total respect for private property.If you can’t make that your first point, you don’t have a point.It pains me that the stimulus czar and brad and google and everyone else all skip over the private property arguments, because it really means they are just ginning up socialist mobs, to justify theft. And no amount of future forward tech is worth that trade.It is kind of like Boxee, I’ve been tirelessly saying to you to them, that they should be presenting themselves as a BETTER cable interface, sell their souls to TWC and Comcast, become the GUI for “TV Everywhere” – because it is awesome tech. But I’m bummed to suspect that deep down, it has no respect for the righteous business that has come before it. And a rational person has to first respect private property before he can support capitalism. Skipping over the contracts of others willy-nilly, and claiming to speak for a better technical future, is really an argument for socialism.Hackers are not supposed to trust the government. No matter what.

          4. fredwilson

            Boxee is working hard with a number of cable channels to offer subscription services on boxee, so of course they respect the value of content

          5. Morgan Warstler

            Well there is a torrent client, but lets say for a second that’s exactly true in spirit.Boxee still could be talking to all the cable companies, even the smaller regional and mom and pop shops. They could ALL use a slick laptop/set top box client, they could sell ads into, that is engineered to authenticate that the user is actually a cable subscriber (easy part) and then help cajole the world towards the TV Everywhere vision…. and actually drive the the market towards the most obvious workable solution.Boxee doesn’t have to be like Bit Torrent, which kinda played along with the studios for a couple of years…. but broke up with them in the end It is a very NICE piece of software the ISPs should be working with… otherwise Boxee actually slows down the process of bringing TV content to web (which is a bummer). Even if cable channels love Boxee, without the cable guys on board, it forces content folks to get into fights with cable providers they don’t want to get into.

          6. fredwilson

            I can assure you that if any cable company emailed or called Avner and said, “we want to work with you”, he’d be on the first flight to see them. He’s trying hard to do just that. But even if you bring a horse to water, you can’t make him drink.Being a VC in this sector for the past 15 years, I’ve learned one thing the hard way. If you wait around for the big companies to decide to work with you, you die. You have to amass a user base to be taken seriously.Boxee is not doing anything wrong btw. They didn’t build the bittorrrent app. Boxee is open source software and they can’t stop anyone from doing anything with it, but Boxee plays straight with the cable cos and the content owners.

  9. jpmarcum

    I’m all for there being a long-term technology solution to the rural broadband issue but, assuming one agrees with the need for stimulus investment today, I don’t think it’s nuts to spend some money getting wires (assume we’re talking fiber) out there in the near-term. In many ways, as far as stimulus goes, it wins on three fronts:1. It’s “shovel ready”. Laying all that fiber and digging all those trenches can start tomorrow and is going to provide employment to those getting hit the hardest in this recession. While an open spectrum solution will require eventual investment in equipment/installation/construction, that’s not what the doctor ordered in this particular instance.2. The “need”: I spend a lot of time about 100 miles north of NY in Columbia County and our only option up there for broadband is satellite, a costly ($50/month + ~$200 install), slower and unreliable (the WildBlue bird must be somewhere near Jupiter based on how easy it is to lose during rain vs. DirectTV) substitute for wired broadband. Couple that with the lack of reliable cell service (we have none at our house) and you’re left with POTS for a lot of families who already have limited access to education. Seriously, when was the last time you used dial-up? These folks live it still. Think about how far they’ll be behind in five or so more years.3. Long-term benefit. Unlike *a lot* of the stimulus package, this investment actually creates opportunities for both education and employment over the long-term. This investment could be a bridge to an open-spectrum solution and some insurance should that take longer to implement than expected.That all said, I’m not sure what exactly $7.2B is supposed to get us and am concerned that the build-out will be so limited in scope that the value will be minimized. However, as a taxpayer, it won’t take much for my expectations to be exceeded.

    1. rick

      this discussion is about whats best for everyone. using the spectrum more wisely is best for everyone.morgan: dont hide behind capitalism. we dont care anymore about capitalism vs socialism. capitalism without ethics put us in our current dilema. Im not saying socialism is any better, but Im also saying that we should not blindly believe in the idea that capitalism is right and just and best, because its not about that.in other words, the arguement of “this is not good becuase its not capitalism” isnt a valid arguement. and no, being anti-capitalist is not treason, so dont trot that out either.

      1. jpmarcum

        Huh? Did you miss where Fred specifically addressed the rural broadband stimulus spend and said “I think it’s nuts”? He then went on to discuss the open spectrum, mentioning a five year or so horizon. I agree with opening the airwaves but disagree with Fred’s assertion that a rural broadband initiative is “nuts” – in many ways it more successfully meets the stimulus bill’s goals than opening the spectrum would.

        1. fredwilson

          It is nuts to do something the old way which is going to be obsolete soon when there is a better way

    2. fredwilson

      I am not opposed to the stimulus and I guess I’d rather see the money go into the ground to get us more ubiquitous broadband than many other places that money will go.But it just bothers me to do something the old way when there is a better way

  10. christina viering

    Could open up a little economic stimulus.