Last month, President Bush signed energy-reform legislation that got a lot of play in the media, and for good reason. Among the highlights was the planned phase-out of the iconic incandescent bulb by 2014 in favor of more efficient options, which is expected to eventually reduce the energy consumption of light bulbs by 60%.

Another was a 40% increase in automobile fuel efficiency -- to 35 miles per gallon -- by 2020, along with a corresponding increase in biofuel use -- such as ethanol -- to 36 billion gallons per year, up from the current 6 billion gallons used today. Together, these actions are expected to reduce America's oil consumption by more than a million barrels per day, the equivalent of taking about 28 million of today's cars off the roads, according to one media report.

After applying the common-sense litmus test, it's difficult to argue with either provision, though it is hard to imagine life without the incandescent bulb -- one of mankind's most important inventions, which became an equally powerful symbol of enlightened thought.

Another common-sense aspect of the law that didn't get much play in the media concerns smart media, of which the federal government will encourage and support public utilities usage.

This likely will include increased deployment of smart meters, which will help utilities allocate energy resources where they are needed most and help them identify customers that are using disproportionate amounts of energy, perhaps because of outdated or inefficient equipment. It also likely will include increased usage of smart thermostats, which give utilities the ability to remotely lower the thermostats of businesses and residences by a degree or two, in order to preserve precious energy resources during peak usage periods and, at times, to stave off brownouts and blackouts.

It's already begun to happen, as contributing writer Merrill Douglas reports in the upcoming dataNEXT supplement that will be part of MRT's March edition (The Current Group announced similar capabilities via its BPL networks this week). Of course, some will complain about such intrusions, citing Big Brother concerns. I'm not one of them. I couldn't care less if my electric utility adjusts my thermostat by a couple of degrees when I'm at work or when I'm sleeping. It doesn't sound like much, but extrapolate such an action over hundreds of thousands of users and it could make a big difference in energy consumption.

While common sense apparently is the rule of the day when it comes to energy, it seemingly is devoid in the telecommunications world ruled by the FCC. In our February issue, which will head to the printer next week, senior writer Donny Jackson provides further details on a federal lawsuit being pursued by Sprint Nextel, which we first reported on back in November. Sprint is seeking to overturn a commission mandate issued in September that would force the carrier to vacate its entire 800 MHz spectrum by June 26 of this year, which is when the reconfiguration of the airwaves was supposed to be completed. Of course, there's no chance of that happening. Consequently, forcing Sprint off these channels prematurely will create a serious capacity problem for the carrier, which needs public safety to move to its new channels so that it can migrate its iDEN push-to-talk customers to their new frequencies.

It's one thing for the FCC to stubbornly refuse to adjust the rebanding deadline in an effort to keep the project from getting even further behind schedule. But the contested mandate is something else altogether. While Sprint Nextel certainly needs to accept its share of the blame for rebanding being well off schedule, it should not have to vacate its spectrum until public safety actually needs it.

Recall that the FCC's Sept. 2007 rebanding order calls for Sprint to vacate the airwaves within 60 days of a public-safety agency's request for the channels. This is protection enough for the first-responder community. Moreover, iDEN users -- which include about 3 million public-safety users, according to Sprint vice president Bill Jenkins -- shouldn't have to worry about whether they're going to have service in late June.

Sprint, in its lawsuit, calls the FCC's mandate "arbitrary and capricious." I'm not a lawyer, so I can't comment on the validity of the claim. But I do have a degree in common sense, and this never should have gone to court. The FCC could have cut Sprint some slack. It still can -- and should.

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