The FCC Commissioners’ testimony at the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Communications Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday addressed a myriad of issues facing US tech policymakers. However much of the nearly three hour hearing focused on criticized FCC Chairman Genachowski’s plan to free 12 to 20 megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed use. Some Republican subcommittee members, most notably subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (OR) criticized FCC Chairman Genachowski’s plan to free 12 to 20 megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed use. While such action could support Wi-Fi networks and other such innovations, the law which gave the FCC the authority to auction spectrum mandated them to also maximize the proceeds
Auctioning the spectrum is expected to collect several billion dollars to fund a national public safety communications network that would be used by first responders. Congressman Walden noted that having such large guard bands could result in a loss of up to $7 billion in revenue. However FCC Commissioner McDowell countered the number could be much higher, closer to $14 or $16 billion.
In a day when money is difficult to come by and government cost estimates are suspect at best, it seems foolish to forgo billions, perhaps tens of billions of dollars when innovation and change in the technology sector are not hard to come by. While the 3-2 Democrat leaning split of the FCC means Genachowski’s plan is likely to progress as is, the idea of having smaller guard bands is certainly more beneficial for the economy.
Following the hearing, Mike Rogers (MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee issued a press release urging the FCC, NTIA, and Department of Defense to work together to free spectrum currently held by the federal government. While not extensively discussed during Wednesday’s hearing, the issue of freeing federally held spectrum is one that we must all be concerned with. Representitive Rogers' statement was met with praise from organizations such as CTIA. Freeing such spectrum would not only result in additional revenues which could fund existing programs or aid deficit reduction, but would allow companies to purchase additional spectrum and use it to foster innovation and economic growth.
While subcommittee Democrats such as Anna Eshoo (CA) argued that the Communications Subcommittee should not concern itself with maximizing revenue, it seems to be common sense that given our current economic situation, maximizing revenue should be a primary concern of all Congressional bodies. Limiting spectrum guard bands and auctioning unused or inefficiently managed federal spectrum will accomplish the FCC’’s goals while providing revenue and opportunities for innovation. At a time when both are sorely needed, to do so is only common sense.