Longing for the past
Idrove to Iowa City, Iowa, last month from my home in the Chicago suburbs to visit my daughter, who is a student at the University of Iowa. The roundtrip took me roughly seven hours. It would have taken at least twice as long if not for the marvel known as the Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway, otherwise known as I-88.
President Dwight Eisenhower is credited with envisioning America’s ribbon of highways, but in reality it all started with President Franklin Roosevelt, who in 1942 appointed a committee to evaluate whether a national highway system was needed and feasible.
Regardless, the true visionaries in this matter were the members of Congress who — in 1944, 1952 and 1956 — enacted legislation that established the funding mechanism that turned the vision into reality. This was no small matter, considering that $36 billion was spent in 1958 alone on constructing the concrete labrynth.
I thought about this as I read the column by notable wireless consultant Andrew Seybold (see page 20). Seybold lays out a blueprint for the FCC to follow as it contemplates what to do with the 700 MHz D Block spectrum that attracted no bidders willing to meet the commission’s reserve price. Among the suggestions is for Congress to grant tax credits to any commercial entities that take part in the network buildout. The idea is to spread the massive project across multiple players to lighten the load for each of them and accelerate the buildout.
It’s a good idea, given that it appears we’re stuck with the public/private partnership model as the only viable means of building this vital network. As MRT Senior Writer Donny Jackson reports in this issue (see page 6), FCC Chairman Kevin Martin conceded last month that “absent funding legislation, a public/private [arrangement] really is the only way.”
Wait a minute — Martin might be on to something here. Let’s say — just for kicks — that Congress reinstitutes the federal telephone excise tax, which has come and gone several times over the past half century. Then let’s say we spread the estimated $20 billion cost of the network not across multiple commercial entities, but instead across the nation’s roughly 200 million cellular subscribers. Finally, let’s do this for a decade. As I’ve written before, the cost to each subscriber under this model would come to 83 cents per month.
It costs nearly $200 for a family of four to attend a Major League baseball game. Last year, 79.5 million went through the turnstyles, a new record. We can afford this network for first responders, who truly are America’s MVPs (most valuable protectors). We just need some visionaries in Congress to make us do it.