What Exactly Is an 'Aggressive Tech Agenda'?

Apr. 1.09 | About: Wireless HOLDRs (WMH)

The WSJ has a story in its Washington Wire column that says Senator Kerry Promises An Agressive Tech Agenda. The basis of the story is a talk Senator Kerry was giving to the cable execs assembled in DC for their annual industry gathering. The story goes on to talk about the $7.2bn that the government is going to spend as part of the stimulus bill to "deliver broadband to rural consumers who can't get it and urban americans who can't afford it."

I don't think spending $7.2bn to build out wired broadband to rural and urban communities is an "aggressive tech agenda". I think it's nuts. There's a better way that was alluded to at the end of the WSJ piece:

Kerry and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine have co-sponsored legislation that would require the government to inventory the nation’s airwaves and see if the spectrum is being used efficiently. The report would be the first step toward future government action to remove “spectrum squatters,” freeing airwaves for high-speed Internet or other wireless services.

The fact is that wireless spectrum is not being used efficiently except in the unregulated bands (like the band that wifi runs in). We need open spectrum in this country and we need it now. If we unleashed entrepreneurs and engineers on the spectrum by opening it right now, we would solve the rural and urban access issues easily. It would take some time, maybe five years, maybe a bit more, but not much longer. We'd save the $7.2bn (it's too late to save that, it will be spent digging trenches and doing things the old way) and we'd get better, faster, and more reliable WIRELESS broadband.

My mentor on this issue is Tom Evslin, who is now the stimulus czar for the State of Vermont and who has written on open spectrum often. I am particularly fond of this post - Internet 2.0 is Open Spectrum.

Ten years from now the idea of licensing swatches of the radio spectrum for private use will seem quaintly obsolete. Most spectrum will be available for any entity – including individuals - to use so long as the rules for the use of that spectrum are observed. Today almost all usable frequencies are licensed to private license holders or reserved for specified public uses.

I am glad that Senator Kerry recognizes that all this "reserved spectrum" is a huge impediment to innovation and better connectivity. If he really wants to pursue an "aggressive tech agenda" then the first step would be to push hard and fast for open spectrum.