Whether it’s 4G cell phones, light-as-a-feather laptops or the latest tablet, Americans are enjoying a wireless revolution. In 2010, Americans typed, tapped, texted, and called on an estimated 300 million mobile devices.
But all this increased connectivity is taking a toll on the nation’s increasingly crowded airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns of a “spectrum crunch” that could hit as early as 2013, given how quickly wireless traffic is growing.
Innovative companies are devising new ways to maximize spectrum efficiency so more users can take up less space. But while these advances deserve strong support, they’re also not cost-free. In some cases, existing “legacy” users must retrofit older and less efficient technologies to adjust to these new uses.
This brief proposes a “spectrum management mitigation fund” to help legacy users defray the inadvertent costs of adapting to innovations in the marketplace. This fund would involve no new federal money and instead would be financed from a portion of revenues from “voluntary incentive auctions”—a mechanism endorsed by the FCC to encourage more efficient spectrum allocation between current and prospective licensees.
Creating the fund would reconcile two goals: it would both encourage much-needed innovation while also acknowledging the legitimate concerns of users with older technologies. Moreover, it would obviate the politicization of spectrum management issues currently occurring in part due to the absence of a mitigation mechanism. For example, this fund could help re-solve the current controversy between the legacy GPS community and the wireless broadband start-up LightSquared—it could partially compensate legacy GPS users for the cost of retrofitting existing devices, thereby clearing the path for LightSquared to deploy its network.
With the benefits of spectrum innovation too great pass up, this fund could be an important next step to ensure Americans enjoy the next generation and beyond of new wireless technologies.