Stop treating spectrum as a series of tubes

Make the regulation of all wireless frequencies more like that of WiFi.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

The iPhone is a data guzzler and AT&T is having a hard time keeping up with its demands.

(Video from Paul Holbcomb of the Bold Headed Broadcast and Gavin, aka 13tongimp, a YouTube vlogger.)

Worse, or better depending on your point of view, every device maker on the planet is looking to replicate those demands on their devices.

Most reporters see this as a problem. It is, in fact, an opportunity.

I never have problems with data throughput on my iPhone. My secret is I seldom use it when I am away from home or a WiFi hotspot. This gives me a fast path to the wired Internet for which the iPhone's demands are trivial.

WiFi is ruled by devices, not carriers. Any device that meets requirements for low power output can be sold and used. The result is tons of traffic across a limited set of spectrum bands, a lot more traffic than any other spectrum bands now carry.

Other bands aren't used as much because they were sold, by the government, to an oligopoly of carriers, mostly AT&T and Verizon. Those bands are ruled by carriers, not devices. They are upgraded according to the carriers' schedules, and all use of the resource is subject to the carriers' rules.

So the answer to the problem is relatively easy to state.

Make the regulation of all wireless frequencies more like that of WiFi.

Easy to say, tough to do. Because, as I noted, the government sold your rights to spectrum. This was back at a time when spectrum was seen as sets of parallel railroad tracks, as a limited resource that required regulation in order to maintain order. You know, a series of tubes.

This has been true since the Radio Act of 1927. Use of the resource was limited to reduce interference. Government had to exert this control in 1927 or all radio listeners would hear was static.

But in the 21st century spectrum is not a set of railroad tracks. It's not water flowing through pipes. It's not a series of tubes.

Spectrum is an ocean.

This implies a different approach to regulation. Think Internet, not TV.

Internet regulation is based on the idea that everyone connects to everyone else. First you move the data, then you measure the data that flowed, then you talk about getting paid.

Internet regulation has built an enormous industry. The money Internet Service Providers (ISPs) get for each bit is a pittance next to what carriers get for wireless data, but the result is more bits are moved, more applications care created,  more work gets done and more money is made.

It's the economy that should be the bottom line for regulators, not the interest of the companies being regulated.

As the FCC begins what it says will be a wide-ranging look at the wireless industry, examining both competition and innovation, perhaps it should start with this simple premise.

How do we turn wireless carriers into ISPs?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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