The power of open spectrum

Open spectrum draws more use than closed spectrum, and more use means more growth, a greater opportunity to profit. Besides, it's our spectrum, it is everyone's spectrum. It should not belong to a few monopolists.

Boston Common from Google Earth, scaled with The Gimp
The power of open source isn't moral or ethical. It's practical.

Open source delivers better value to consumers of software, and thus to all of us. It creates economic arrangements which not only lead to profit, but to greater use of the resource.

Open spectrum is the same way. You get more use of the resource, which leads to more human and economic growth, when spectrum is freely available to everyone than when it is controlled by one owner.

Yet when Google co-founder Larry Page went to Washington this week, urging that the old white space frequencies between TV channels be left open and available, he drew a hostile reception.

He understood correctly that it's political, but it's more than that. It's philosophical.

As I have learned while blogging here the very idea of something held in common, available to all, strikes some as, well, communist.

Those who see politics and business as a zero-sum game refuse to accept that the idea of a commons is as old as, well, Boston Common. (Image of Boston Common from Google Earth, scaled using The Gimp.)

A big park held in common, available to all, enables developers to make intensive use of all the land around the park while maintaining a livable city. The sharing makes everyone wealthier.

There are many other examples of this throughout American history. Public schools. Land grant universities. The Interstate Highway system. These are the shared amenities which made America what it is.

But this goes against the grain of a generation's political assumptions. To conservatives free means enterprise. Everything must be owned in order for it to be fully exploited.

This is conservatism as ideology, as rigid as international communism, and just as brain dead.

Open spectrum draws more use than closed spectrum, and more use means more growth, a greater opportunity to profit. Besides, it's our spectrum, it is everyone's spectrum. It should not belong to a few monopolists.

In the short term, I'm certain, Page's quest is quixotic. He's tilting at windmills. In the longer run, he's on the right side of history, the American side.

The success of open source, the Internet industry, and of Google itself attest to this. America will continue to fall behind the world until it learns the lessons of its own history, as taught by its business leaders, and stops listening to its selfish laggards.