updated 11:35 pm EDT, Thu July 14, 2011
Terms would complicate unlicensed wireless space
A set of proposals drafted by House Commerce Committee Republicans in the US House of Representatives aims to overcome the looming spectrum crisis, however many of the authors' specific strategies have been met with criticism. The discussion draft includes new rules for spectrum auctions, licensed and unlicensed spectrum, and net neutrality for wireless networks.
The proposals recommend revamping the auction system to require bids to be taken on unlicensed spectrum, rather than limiting auctions to licensed bands. The FCC would be prohibited from allocating spectrum for unlicensed use if it the aggregate bids exceed the highest bid from a company attempting to use the same spectrum for licensed purposes.
The FCC would also be prohibited from setting any rules that limit the ability of the licensee "to manage the use of its network, including management of the use of applications, services, or devices on its network, or to prioritize traffic on its network as it chooses." Auction winners would also be entitled to ask for a waiver or adaptation for "any provision of law administered by the Commission."
The Republican authors explicitly describe companies such a Google and Microsoft as "free riders" that benefit from unlicensed spectrum without having to pay. Opponents to the draft legislation, such as Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld, argue that unlicensed spectrum serves to benefit consumers and a wide range of companies, large or small.
"This confuses the nature of an exclusive license with the nature of unlicensed," Feld writes in a blog post. "Unlicensed spectrum acts as a resource available for all to develop. This encourages a particular type of development – notably for mass produced goods or low margin/high volume services. By contrast, licensing encourages the licensee to maximize the profitability of the spectrum, incenting the development of large scale networks that create sufficient return for the licensee."
Critics also point out potential conflict-of-interest issues with the terms allowing companies to draft their own rules after winning auctions for spectrum, rather than setting a consistent set of rules before the spectrum is put up for auction.
House democrats have already voiced opposition to the draft bill, though some organizations stand behind the proposals. Verizon Senior Vice President Peter Davidson quickly voiced satisfaction with the draft. [via Ars Technica and NationalJournal]