Bridge Span 18-3: Who Should Be Driving Our Innovation Future?

For twenty years, the federal government has been devising a plan for talking cars, promising a reduction in injuries and deaths. For twenty years, the government jealously guarded a block of spectrum to use as it pursued its ill-advised industrial policy designed to compete with private industry. For twenty years, nothing happened. But life outside of this government Xanadu went on.

In 1999, the FCC set aside the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum for “Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC)” and “Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS),” a vehicle to vehicle communications system. Five years later the Commission established licensing and service rules to govern the spectrum slice. Despite every advantage being provided nothing resulted over time, even though more than $1 billion in taxpayer money was wasted. That block of spectrum cordoned off for this government adventure has become increasingly valuable over the decades. Valuable in terms of money certainly, but more importantly the band had become valuable in terms of the potential for greater innovation.

For years, communications and tech companies have been seeking permission to use the 5.9 GHz band for additional wireless bandwidth, recognizing that this part of the spectrum is what will help consumers get to gigabit wi-fi. The band is very well suited to serving taxpayers directly, by providing them a means of receiving faster mobile broadband now, providing greater speeds for the last 100 feet. The fact is that we are facing various challenges in spectrum, most prominently that the spectrum we have allocated, a raw material for innovation, is getting more crowded. Consumer demand for more and more broadband continues to grow rapidly as the importance of wireless services to our economy increases. Maximizing resources only makes sense, particularly when it benefits taxpayers and the economy.

The goal must be the maximization of spectrum use – to drive innovation and the economic benefits that follow. That is, the rules governing this band should be altered so that it can be used simultaneously and more effectively by more entities. Allowing those who are enamored with, and invested in, the government’s vehicle to vehicle communications approach to try it in the marketplace without government playing favorites and competing against those who have other valuable use for spectrum should be encouraged. But, the only way that the goal will be achieved is by the FCC again acting, acting in the best interest of innovation and the public.

The Commission should act quickly to reallocate this precious spectrum resource to a productive use, to designate more unlicensed spectrum so that wi-fi can continue to meet the huge demand of consumers. Twenty years is more than long enough. Let others use the spectrum for additional innovations. Such single allocations are a vestige of old bad government, government that dictated industries and outcomes. The time has come for a new approach, to innovate.

Comments are closed.