Managing Our “Beachfront” Spectrum for the Public Good

Summertime often conjures up memories of days spent at the beach – waves crashing, sand castles, beach balls, surfing, swimming and ice cream. For the vast majority of Americans, that time is spent at a public beach – places with names like Crane’s, Ocean Shores, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Presque Isle and yes, even Marconi, named for the telecommunications pioneer.

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology holds a hearing on a legislative proposal that would require all newly allocated radio spectrum to be auctioned. That would include spectrum reallocated in the TV bands, including the white spaces spectrum, soon to be used by innovative new types of unlicensed devices based on dynamic spectrum access techniques.

Such devices already have been used in public and private trials in the U.S., the United Kingdom and other locations. Just two weeks ago, Microsoft, along with companies as varied at the BBC, British Telecom, BSkyB, Nokia and Samsung, as well as U.S.-based start ups like Adaptrum and Spectrum Bridge, launched a large scale white spaces trial in Cambridge, England.

Unlicensed spectrum bands are like our public beaches. They are there for the enjoyment of all, assuming pre-established rules are abided by. The vacant channels in the TV band spectrum, the so called unlicensed “TV white spaces,” can be used to deliver “Super Wi-Fi” with signals that better penetrate obstacles, and travel over longer distances than traditional Wi-Fi. Public and private ownership of beaches occurs, and both make sense in appropriate circumstances as a balanced approach.

As Congress considers different legislative proposals, we suggest that it take a balanced and measured approach to addressing consumers’ growing demand for wireless voice, video and data services. That means giving the Federal Communications Commission the flexibility to conduct an incentive auction and to otherwise address wireless broadband demand, while preserving unlicensed uses generally and in the TV spectrum bands. Mandating auctions for all spectrum bands would likely undermine innovation and economic development by limiting public access to spectrum.

This kind of approach would give the FCC needed flexibility to make more licensed spectrum available, including through an incentive auction. It would also enable the FCC to continue pursuing more unlicensed spectrum allocations, as well as expanded use of innovative dynamic spectrum access techniques and technologies that can make higher and better use of limited spectrum resources.

This kind of approach would amount to a win-win – a win for consumers in terms of increasing the total spectrum available for wireless broadband, and a win for the U.S. economy in terms of increased investment, jobs and innovation. This kind of approach would also give industry needed certainty to move ahead and invest in new dynamic spectrum access technologies that make more efficient use of limited spectrum resources. This would also allow the U.S. to maintain its lead in developing these promising new technologies.

Like our public beaches, let’s make sure a meaningful portion of our nation’s beachfront spectrum remains available for innovation by all comers.

About the Author

Director, Technology Policy Group, Microsoft