The other side of broadband
One of the most interesting guys you’ll ever talk with is Mark Crosby, the president of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance, who was the featured speaker last week at the Radio Club of America’s annual breakfast that was held during IWCE in Las Vegas. The topic du jour was the broadband migration, which still is in a relatively nascent stage. Crosby suggested that it’s going to be a big headache for many incumbent licensees.
One reason is America’s insatiable appetite for it, an appetite that only is going to grow, most likely by several orders of magnitude. Another is the notion — universally held by policyholders at the federal level — that broadband is the answer to just about everything.
“The belief is that broadband is going to cure arthritis,” Crosby said. “Even if you live in a cave, they are going to get it to you.” I sensed that he only was half joking.
Indeed, the Federal Communications Commission, in its National Broadband Plan issued last year, opined that “like electricity, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.” That’s all well and good, Crosby said. But he wants to know where the spectrum needed to meet America’s unquenchable broadband thirst is going to be found. “They’re going to need at least 3500 MHz to meet demand a decade from now, not the 500 MHz that’s been estimated,” he predicted.
One of the first places they’re going to look is in the direction of licensees who aren’t fully utilizing their spectrum, according to Crosby. “If you’re not using your spectrum in certain places, [the FCC] is going to want it back,” he said.
For this reason, Crosby encouraged incumbent licensees to consider leasing any airwaves that they’re not currently using to other entities on the secondary market, which the FCC established in 2004. If that’s not an option, incumbents might soon have an alternative. Legislation is pending in Congress that would authorize the FCC to conduct incentive auctions that would compensate licensees willing to cede their airwaves to the broadband movement.
Crosby said that the FCC already is taking a hard look at how incumbent licensees are using their spectrum. “If you’re not using your spectrum for broadband, the feds just may try to repurpose it,” he said. “It seems from current policy initiatives that licensees are going to have to justify why their spectrum use is important and should not be repurposed for broadband.”
Crosby predicted that this may make license renewals a bit more difficult in the future.
What really concerns Crosby is the possibility that the FCC one day will try to address broadband spectrum shortages by authorizing unlicensed users to share spectrum with licensed users, an approach that theoretically is made possible by cognitive radio and geo-location technologies. Such solutions would enable an unlicensed user to leverage an incumbent’s spectrum without detrimentally affecting the latter’s operations.
“Theoretically” is the operative catchword because the jury still is out regarding the reliability of such solutions, Crosby said. That worries him, as does the fact that the FCC neglected to address the rights of incumbents in its notice of proposed rulemaking on this topic, he said.
“You can’t run roughshod over incumbents,” Crosby said. “They need some sort of technological or economic protection. This will affect all incumbent licensees one way or another, and there are some serious long-term ramifications.”
Protecting the rights and interests of incumbent licensees seems like a no-brainer. But things are moving very fast right now concerning broadband, and I’m beginning to wonder whether they’re moving too fast. As Crosby pointed out, the broadband migration has taken on religious fervor. But there are many moving parts to this migration, and my fear is that policyholders, smitten with the promise of broadband, will overlook some very important aspects.
The best analogy that I can think of would be a couple that rushes to the altar because they completely are infatuated with each other, only to later discover character and personality issues that force them apart. Who would argue that they would have been far better off to slow things down and really get to know each other?
In the business world, “getting to know each other” is synonymous with “performing due diligence,” and it wouldn’t hurt federal policymakers to take a breath and execute some of the latter as it relates to broadband. Remember the adage: haste makes waste.
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