PFF Releases Transcript of March Spectrum Allocation Debate
WASHINGTON D.C. – Several bills circulating in Congress would allocate unused portions of the TV broadcast spectrum (“white space”) to unlicensed uses. But this is not the only available alternative. The white space could be auctioned and exclusively and flexibly licensed, as the FCC will shortly be doing with the AWS (advanced wireless services) spectrum.. Which of these is the best use of the TV White Space? This issue was fully explored at a March Congressional Seminar hosted by The Progress & Freedom Foundation. PFF is releasing a transcript of the event, "The "White Space": What to Do With It," to provide Congress and other interested parties guidance and insight into the best possible way to allocate spectrum white space.
The panel, moderated by Randolph May, Senior Fellow and Director of Director of Communications Policy Studies at The Progress & Freedom Foundation, featured representatives Congress, the broadcast industry and the wireless communications industry. Participants included David Donovan, President of the Association for Maximum Service Television, Inc.; Jaime Hjort, Legislative Assistant, Office of Senator George Allen (R-VA); Dr. Paul Kolodzy, Communications Technology Consultant; Thomas Lenard, PFF's Senior Fellow & Vice President for Research; Lisa Sutherland, Staff Director, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation; and Alice Tornquist, Vice President of Government Affairs for QUALCOMM Incorporated.
Lisa Sutherland discussed a bill introduced by Senator Stevens (R-AK) that will make unused broadcast spectrum available for unlicensed uses. "[The bill] has some specific requirements that require the FCC to establish rules to protect incumbent-licensed services from any kind of harmful interference," Sutherland stated. She explained that a consensus document will be produced in her Committee that will protect broadcasters while adopting technical device rules which could be used in the white space.
Thomas Lenard, however, explained that the only way to efficiently allocate the spectrum is through the use of property rights and markets. In addressing interference issues, Lenard explained, "It seems to me that this interference is going to be better controlled under a property rights regime where there's a relatively small number of people whose responsibility it is not to overstep their boundaries than under an unlicensed regime where there are millions of people, perhaps tens of millions of people, using devices that have been approved for that regime."
Paul Kolodzy offered a more technical definition of the white space issue and stated that an "engineering solution" was needed to ensure that spectral usage rights were not impeded upon by devices that utilize the white space. David Donovan represented the concerns of the broadcast community over interference from devices using non-licensed spectrum. "What happens with respect to enforcement, particularly post hoc enforcement, and we've found this throughout the years, when someone gets interference to their set, they have no idea where it's coming from... With unlicensed it gets even more complex, because if I'm turning on my Wi-Fi laptop, and for some reason I'm interfering with a television through a wall, or depending on the power levels, down the street, I don't even know I'm causing interference."
Jaime Hjort set about to explain why policies set forth in Senator Allen’s "Wireless Innovation Act" are the best options for spectrum white space. "Opening the spectrum up for unlicensed use will enable entrepreneurs and innovators to develop the next generation of wireless broadband services at low cost... But the true beauty of unlicensed spectrum is the unforeseeable benefits. Opening up to unlicensed use allows for continued innovation, yielding benefits we can't even imagine today."
Alice Tornquist addressed the Digital TV transition and the resulting potentially vacant spectrum. Tornquist endorsed licensing the vacant spectrum because, "from the standpoint of interference, it's easier to do between two licensed entities than after thousands or millions of unlicensed devices have been deployed in the spectrum." Tornquist continued, "[F]or those who invest in wireless broadband systems, certainty has been a significant factor... This level of investment is based, in part, on the certainty that's provided through exclusive licenses."
Initial panel remarks and moderator questions were followed by a spirited debate among panelists and audience members. Complete statements from the panelists and questions from attendees can be found in the event transcript.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.