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Broadband spectrum auctions a 'mistake'

Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer says the money can be better used by telcos to provide wider, better connectivity to rural communities and spur societies to advance through tech.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

The potential benefits offered by technological advances to help societies develop will not come to pass if the "artificially-created spectrum crisis", which happens because governments determine the licensing rights, is not addressed.

Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, offered his assessment during a dialogue session Friday. He said it is a "fundamental mistake" for governments to sell spectrum rights to telecom operators as the money used to procure the licensing rights could be used by these companies to invest in their networks to widen wireless coverage in rural areas, for example.

The money telcos fork out to secure bandwidth will also trickle down to end-users through higher mobile subscription and data plans, Mundie added. The dialogue session was organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

"The way we govern airwave spectrum worldwide [has not changed since] more than 100 years ago, [and this has resulted] in the world having an artificially-created spectrum crisis," the Redmond executive pointed out. Mundie is also currently on U.S. President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology.

Wireless connectivity is one of two factors that will impact how societies advance using technology, the other being the quality of the device, Mundie stated. With the falling cost of devices, this has helped even the poorest communities get their hands on Web-enabled mobile handsets like feature phones. Mobile connectivity is not seeing the same dramatic acceleration, though, he noted.

So, instead of spending on bandwidth licenses, he said telcos could use the money instead to invest in small cell networks which can then be deployed in remote or poor villages so residents can be connected to the Internet. Possible services that could be delivered to them remotely include online lessons for children, he added.

Telcos could also focus their resources on developments such as super Wi-Fi, which utilizes unused radio spectrum in TV broadcast bands, or "white spaces", to deliver services through wireless communications, he pointed out.

He stressed the spectrum crisis is not a technological problem. Rather, it will require "enlightened policies" to bring a radical reformation in how states and enterprises use airwaves and lead to an accelerated deployment of high-quality Internet connections--which will help level the playing field between urban and rural population.

Unfortunately, governing bodies have yet to catch up with the rapid evolution of IT, which has gone beyond physical entities to virtual business models and interactions such as cloud computing and social media. With these, cybersecurity, and user and data privacy concerns have also emerged, he noted.

"No country has good regulation [over technology] to date including the United States," Mundie said. Currently, regulations and best practices are evolving mostly within the commercial arena but not at the level of governments yet, he added.

Ultimately, governance systems will have to be refined as the traditional method of regulating the tech industry will no longer be a good fit, the executive said.

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