Tech Execs Decry Spectrum Policy

In advance of a series of major spectrum auctions by the U.S. government, the Technology CEO Council has released a report that sharply criticizes current U.S. policy toward spectrum allocation and calls for a new 10-point "21st century spectrum policy."

"Our nation’s wireless needs are too often governed by outdated regulations that hinder economic progress and innovation," said Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) CEO Ed Zander, chairman of the Technology CEO Council, in a statement. The Council's members include executives from many of the largest tech companies in America.

In particular, the Council calls for the FCC and the National Telecommunications Administration (NTIA) to:

  • Reevaluate and reallocate underused commercial spectrum bands, specifically the frequencies allocated for the long-delayed transition to digital TV;

  • Repurpose underutilized government airwaves (a demand that could apply to valuable frequencies currently under the control of the Dept. of Defense);

  • Analyze which airwaves are not being used best, and how they might be reallocated.

    If the government ignores these needs, says Bruce Mehlman, executive director of the Technology CEO Council, America risks losing its innovation edge to European and Asian economies, like South Korea, that are busy developing next-generation wireless technologies.

    "America has led the way in wireless innovation for decades," Mehlman points out. "But past performance is no guarantee of future results. The rest of the world is not standing still, and they are deploying increasingly more advanced wireless infrastructures that will challenge us going forward."

    The report is in sharp contrast to optimistic comments recently from NTIA director Michael Gallagher. At the Wireless Communications Association International's Symposium & Expo in San Jose, Calif., last month, Gallagher praised the Bush Administration's "aggressive" efforts to free up spectrum for WiMax and other next-generation broadband wireless technologies. (See The Great Spectrum Rip-Off.)

    The report also marks a break with television broadcasters, which so far have successfully resisted moves to force them to hasten the move to digital TV and free up underused spectrum (often known as "white space") for more advanced uses.

    "It's in the TV broadcast industry's interest to keep others out of the white space and gradually win free access to it for itself," wrote J.H. Snider, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, in a recent white paper on spectrum allocation.

    Many of the tech giants on the Council -- including Motorola, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) -- sell or are developing products based on advanced wireless technology, such as WiMax, that would take advantage of freed-up spectrum.

    This summer the FCC is scheduled to begin the biggest round of spectrum auctions since the late 1990s, including some frequencies currently occupied by government agencies. The DTV "white space" is not expected to come on the market until at least 2008. (See Back to the Spectral Future.)

    — Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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