Open access should not be a partisan question

The new frequencies, being lower on the spectrum, will allow longer waves to disperse over a wider area. Management of the resource will be trickier. But does anyone doubt that the same amount of innovation won't result, the same economic boom in radios and other gear?

Gathering Grounds Kirkwood coffee bar logo
The question of open access to the 700 MHz frequencies being abandoned in 2009 by TV should not be a partisan one.

But it has become so. With Democratic FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein now speaking out on behalf of open access, in advance of final rules, the partisan nature of the debate has become clear.

It's a shame, because the hand being held by Republicans in this case is a losing one. Maybe not politically (phone companies are among the most generous political givers in our society), but scientifically and economically.

Compare the revenues generated through open access on the 802.11 WiFi frequencies to those generated through any similar-sized slice of cellular-exclusive spectrum. There's no contest.

WiFi has delivered multiple generations of new gear, each more capable than the last. It has spawned new industries, not the least among them the neighborhood coffee bar business.

All this despite very tight restrictions over the power output of WiFi radios, and growing contention among network users.

When I opened my laptop at a local coffee shop last week, having lost my cable modem access to a lightning strike, I counted a half-dozen WiFi radios within range. Some were secured, others were open, and one gave me access automatically, as soon as I booted up.

Such "free" access is pretty pricey. Each time I walked in, I forked over $4 for a large cafe mocha. Not that I was desperate for caffeine. It was being polite. It's expected. It's the business model. Over four days I spent over $20.

The new frequencies, being lower on the spectrum, will allow longer waves to disperse over a wider area. Management of the resource will be trickier. But does anyone doubt that the same amount of innovation won't result, the same economic boom in radios and other gear?

There's no argument, save a political one.

And that's the shame of it.

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