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Ex-FCC Chair: Spectrum Plan "Single Worst Telecom Bill I've Seen" 63

Posted by samzenpus
from the but-how-do-you-really-feel? dept.
alphadogg writes "Former FCC chairman Reed Hundt made waves when he called the House spectrum auction legislation 'the single worst telecom bill' he's seen. The legislation, which would severely restrict the FCC's ability to place conditions on spectrum auctions, is seen as a non-starter in the Senate where a bipartisan group of senators including John Kerry (D — Mass.) and Jerry Moran (R — Kan.) have signaled strong opposition to the House approach to authorizing spectrum auctions. In this interview, Hundt outlines his major objections to the House bill and describes what he would do differently to make more spectrum available."
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Ex-FCC Chair: Spectrum Plan "Single Worst Telecom Bill I've Seen"

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  • The Problem Is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @11:30AM (#38934811)
    The problem is that many house republicans believe that they can ask God to "create" more spectrum. You know, once it is all used up by the corporations that bribed them. At least a blunder like this could be fixed by reallocation of spectrum. Try reallocating oil out of an empty oil-field, or CO2 back into the ground that quickly.
    Posting mobile, sorry for typos.
  • by RanceJustice (2028040) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @11:42AM (#38934875)

    The FCC absolutely needs to have the regulative authority to say "You can't bid on this without having the money to pay for it, being willing to actually develop on it instead of just sitting on your ass and holding it to lock down competitors until you feel threatened, being willing to roll out development on your new spectrum in rural areas and you have to either keep prices below X or subsidize plans for low-income Americans", but that's at a bare minimum. This bill basically allows anyone who buys spectrum rights to do well... whatever they want with it, even if its to the detriment of everyone save for their own business. Even worse, it prevents the FCC from giving away rights to unlicensed spectrum - Hundt talked about how Wi-Fi would never have come to pass if this bill was in place years ago. I don't want every single possible frequency needlessly licensed to someone with the money to buy it. However, I disagree when it comes to what he says about oligopolistic practices; unless you force fragmentation to a point that is foolish, OR do the right thing and make unlicensed (WiFi, Bluetooth etc..) spectrum and/or public-held "free" spectrum capable of the kind of performance, you'll run into a de-facto oligopoly as the one we have now in telecom/mobile data.

    However, I feel the answer to this issue is relatively simple - stop spectrum auctions and in truth remove private ownership of spectrum entirely. The FCC is an absolutely necessary government function. We need someone to say "Look, these bands are for military communication, these are for emergency services, and these can be used for broadcasting music etc.... if everyone sticks to the frequency as assigned, we won't have any problem. Fuck it up and start playing country music over the missile telemetry channel and we're going to crack some skulls, fine your ass, and take away your right to broadcast". Leaving it up to private sector greed doesn't work, just like with any other decision it becomes "He who has the most money, wins". Why are we allowing parts of the spectrum to be licensed exclusively for private use? Why not just make all spectrum public? Note, this does not mean "unregulated", but it does mean that we'd have a lot better outcome then trying to let a corrupt market decide. There is absolutely no benefit to auctions for exclusivity in the private sector. In truth, the private sector will fare better by having public access to various frequencies. Want to make the next generation long-distance WiMax-like technology? Oh, crap...well, Google bought up all the rights to the spectrum that you thought would work for you. Having the FFC say "All that analogTV open space is now available for this sort of communication usage" means that anyone who wants to build something to work on said frequency is allowed to do so. It also means that your equipment won't be totally useless if Goog-Fi is removed from "beta" because of issues, and thus anyone who built any devices (especially those paying Google for the privilege) is SOL because their hardware only works on frequencies that belong to Google for the next 20 years. Public control and access of the electromagnetic spectrum is good for the public and the benevolent private sector.

    A bill such as this is certainly an insult to the public and furthers the "Money means power" agenda of those who can't get enough of either. However, we shouldn't just fight to return things to the status quo, but rather return control of the spectrum to the public good.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @12:24PM (#38935135) Journal

    Can never be honest during their terms of office. It's always after they retire and lose the chance to change anything. Heh, as if they really give a damn.

  • by fadethepolice (689344) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @12:48PM (#38935327) Journal
    Imagine if they put in a clause requiring spectrum purchasers to provide free air time to top political candidates so it is no longer necessary for them to take bribes from special interests.
  • by rabtech (223758) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @01:37PM (#38935631) Homepage

    Wifi only works because it is extremely short range, and even then it sucks in sufficiently crowded areas. Trying to do cell service that way would be a disaster.

    If the 700mhz, 800mhz, AWS, and PCS band frequencies were held by a regulated public utility company (e.g. Oncor for electricity in Texas) and that utility simply charged cost to deliver plus a small guaranteed profit we wouldn't have a spectrum issue at all. The carriers would compete based on backhaul, services, customer service, price, etc. The infrastructure provider would simply roll out LTE nationwide (just like they are rolling out smart meters) using a small monthly charge to pay off the upgrades.

    The way we handle cellular service in the US right now is terribly inefficient from a market perspective. If Sprint has a tower next to my house but I have an ATT phone, all that Sprint spectrum is wasted. Or if ATT has towers with plenty of capacity but Sprint's tower is overloaded it doesn't matter - the Sprint customers can't use that idle spectrum. This forces all the carriers to allocate much more frequency than they might otherwise need. Every major city has duplicated towers and equipment, wasting electricity and increasing the overall infrastructure cost.

    Further there is no incentive to change because this creates such a high barrier to entry that new competitors can't enter the market. When you don't fear new competitors, you just pass the increased cost on to your customers.

    This is clearly a situation that benefits almost no one except the carriers and only benefits them insofar as it keeps new competitors out of the market. Otherwise it is wholly inefficient and a great example of the free market creating perverse incentives.

    * Of course without any regulation of spectrum it would be effectively useless because transmissions would constantly step on each other. The idea that competitors wouldn't intentionally sabotage each other through covert means is insane... and I don't mean same-industry competitors, I mean stuff like cable companies setting up towers to explicitly jam wireless internet companies to protect their existing business. Without government regulation that is exactly what would happen.

  • Re:The Problem Is (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @01:45PM (#38935691) Homepage

    No, flamebait because of the typos. This is Slashdot, we hate typos.

    (And grammar mistakes, man, those really frost us).

    And you probably typed it from an iPhone (we can tell, you know). We hate iPhones.

  • by RanceJustice (2028040) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @01:50PM (#38935723)

    Just because something is public owned doesn't mean its unregulated, as I noted in my original post. As others have posted, you simply make sure there are standards. GSM works really well on a handful of frequencies for instance, and even better in European and Asian nations where governments get involved. If we didn't have companies dicking around trying to monopolize a given band within the spectrum , we could easily have even more efficient use. Much of the mobile telephone communication around the world happens exclusively on a handful of frequencies (GSM) and there are no problems with "sharing" without having some private entity bitching that only THEY should be able to use the 900mhz band and won't be able to do their job otherwise - that's a USA-style greed invented issue.

    Also, applying these principles to hardware involved in broadcasting is another huge benefit we don't enjoy here in the USA. Verizon owns all the CDMA towers and ATT owns nearly all the GSM towers, allowing them to restrict access to anyone else; T-mo had to actually start putting up their OWN towers. Yes, both ATT and Verizon capitulated slightly to allow licensing access, but only to avoid anti-monopolistic laws that generally allow them to continue doing exactly what they're doing - high prices, little choice. These companies, despite the fact they are hugely subsidized with taxpayer dollars to put up the infrastructure, retain control. This hurts competition and public value. In nations where communications and information infrastructure is subsidized in a way that We The People actually own the towers (or the copper, or the fiber etc..) no matter who was contracted to build them, prices are lower, there are more standards, and performance is off the charts.

    Nearly the entire world enjoys cheaper mobile communication, largely because of strong government regulations to ensure that infrastructure benefits those taxpayers that subsidized it, standards are adhered to, and it even opens the field for competition because new players know that they won't have to license their own spectrum, build hardware for use on said spectrum, or build their own towers/broadcasting equipment that is proprietary - they can simply come in and compete without those kinds of barriers to entry. Much like how the Interstate Highway System allowed America to rise out of the dark ages of unpaved, unmetered, halfassed toll and back roads, by providing a unified, high-"bandwidth" quality system, that is implemented everywhere not just where it was profitable to do so, doing the same for information/communication infrastructure will enable us to take a big leap forward.

    Information Infrastructure is just as important as roads and dams; we've seen the problems of deregulation and putting our critical infrastructure in the hands of private interests who only do what is profitable at the moment. Lets learn from the past and do better; there's already a portion of the world proving the success so its not even broaching new territory so much as it is playing catch up with the rest of the first world. However, we can't do that unless we give up the fear of the word "public" and the idea that private industry and finance are the panacea for everything - in most cases unless they're properly regulated with a watchful, empowered entity, they're actually the plague instead.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 05, 2012 @02:15PM (#38935883)

    Republicans don't care about the free market. The sooner everyone gets that the better off we'll all be. Republicans care about giving away scarce public resources at fire sale prices to corporations for profit. When they can't do that, they care about spending your tax money on privitization schemes that maximize corporate profits and provide zero accountability.

    When was the last time you heard one of these clowns say "Gee,we tried privatizing that and didn't save any money. Maybe we should try something else.". Or perhaps "It looks to me like the people are getting ripped off by mineral companies that operate on federal land but don't pay market rates for what they take?". You never hear that from Republicans, and nowhere near often enough from Democrats either.

    This is no different. It is selling off of the commons, which at worst should be leased and more properly should be licensed to whoever comes up with the best use for it that benefits the American people. Remember them? They sure don't.

  • by RanceJustice (2028040) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:16PM (#38936341)

    The fact that it has been managed poorly, often intentionally so over the past decade by those who WANT anything related to government or regulation to fail (ie. see: Postal service being cut-loose in terms of funding and expected to make it as a "business" while still acting under Congressional control as if they were the Department of the Post Office and thus making decisions that don't make money. That was a decision engineered specifically to make the efficient Post Office into something that private couriers could compete with, after much UPS/FedEx whingeing and whining.).

    The FCC was created as a regulatory oversight for communications. It should do that job well. The fact that it isn't is a fault of a number of decisions meant to make it appear chaotic, inefficient, and unhelpful so that everyone with a private industry solution can say "Oh we can't trust that GUBBERMINT AGENCY look at how bad they are. Look, why don't you push some taxpayer money at my/my friend's/my constituent's business to clean up the mess that government inevitably makes!". I'm not saying they're perfect, but if they were reformed into the agency they were designed to be without private industry money and lobby interference buying officials, they'd easily be able to execute their mission as intended.

  • Re:The Problem Is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Sunday February 05, 2012 @03:46PM (#38936561)

    It's flamebait because you posted it just to stir the pot. You know it's going to simmer when you attack one party in such a fashion, the ones who support the Republican party are going to lash back then the Democrat party faithful will wing in to put in their two cents worth and you have a full blown flame war. Of course you knew that which is why the comment was flamebait.

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