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Julius' Scandal: Manufacturing Spectrum Crisis
Written by Dave Burstein   
Saturday, 22 January 2011 14:29
"There was a big push to manufacture a spectrum crisis," came the email from inside the FCC. "It's a lie that's being perpetuated to the uncertain benefit of a few and definite detriment of the rest." A second senior source confirmed. I even found a highly suggestive document trail. Releasing more spectrum is a good thing in the long run, but one of the least important issues for many years.  Five carriers - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Clearwire & LightSquared - have more spectrum across most of the country than they need for five and probably ten years. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg told D.C. "I don't think we'll have a spectrum shortage," AT&T President John Stankey explained to Wall Street they could meet any likely traffic demand with the spectrum they have.

     Kevin Martin was excoriated because Cathy Bohigan may have pressured a staffer for a particular opinion on a la carte cable pricing. Congressman Bert Stupak tore into him with a vociferous tirade and report. This is directly comparable, with staffers pressured to hide the facts. It probably won't have the same impact unless the Post or WSJ picks up the story and does some reporting. The blatantly inaccurate report on spectrum needed for mobile broadband should be withdrawn but that's not the way things go in D.C. 

     It's unclear whether Julius realized he was telling a "politician's truth" when he said at CES "demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply." Julius' background is as a deal-making lawyer for Home Shopping Network who knew little about communications when he took the Chairmanship. It could be that the folks at the FCC who recognize the error were unwilling to say "the emperor has no clothes" on something he's made his highest priority for 2011. Or Julius may be playing a politician's game. Pepper explains "Washington doesn't understand anything that doesn't fit on a bumper sticker." It may be that Julius believes creating a false crisis is the only effective way to achieve something worthwhile, spectrum for the long haul.

    Clearwire is finding very little demand for the spectrum it's trying to sell. No one except T-Mobile faces serious spectrum limits for years and the DT owned company is also looking at LightSquared and other options. From AT&T to the cablecos, carriers are sitting on huge stores of unused spectrum.

         However, "Femto/wifi offload worked against the idea of a spectrum crisis. Same with acknowledging that back-haul is a bottleneck. Same with cognitive radios, directional antennas, underlay, and all forms of existing spectrum re-use. The idea seems to be to get the military, the broadcasters, etc., to make their spectrum available to the private sector. It's a straight real estate metaphor. It's replacing many things that need to be done and obscuring/confusing lots of stuff that should be much more clear." Actually, the wireless bureau is working on the local backhaul from the cell site issue. I haven't seen the FCC do anything about the monopoly-like backhaul from the exchange pricing problem. That's crucial to rural broadband.
     All of which assumes the current system of exclusive spectrum control. Even with that inefficiency, there's enough spectrum for all networks likely to be built this decade. On a deeper level, "Interference is a metaphor that paints an old limitation of technology as a fact of nature. ... Interference isn't a fact of nature. It's an artifact of particular technologies. This should be obvious to anyone who has upgraded a radio receiver and discovered that the interference has gone away: The signal hasn't changed, so it has to be the processing of the signal that's improved. The interference was in the eye of the beholder all along." The quotes are from David Reed, crucial Internet architect and MIT Professor. In The Myth of Interference, David Weinberger  explains why the way forward is to move to better technology rather than to be held back by limits of the last century.

      "Key to the new generation are software-defined radios."