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As more people move to urban centers, shouldn’t broadband policy follow demand

I came across an interesting blog post on The American, a blog maintained by the American Enterprise Institute. The post’s author, Ryan Streeter, discusses the concept of agglomeration economies. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, agglomeration economies are the benefits that come when firms and people locate near one another together in cities and industrial clusters. Even as transportation and communications costs fall, according NBER, agglomeration economies are still important.

It seems we like to cluster. In Mr. Streeter’s 2010 analysis, the world continues to urbanize with 70% of the world’s population expected to live in cities and metro centers by 2050. Due to this expected change in demographics, Mr. Streeter reasoned that state public policy will have to adjust to the increasing role cities play in driving national economies. States will have to place greater emphasis on issues of construction, green space, and traffic within cities if states themselves are to stay competitive. Rural influence in national politics will decrease as electoral districts become urban. Washington will have to take on a progressively urban mindset.

If Washington is concerned about increasing American productivity and job growth, it will have to educate itself on the relationship between urban densities and higher wages. Americans are probably moving to cities and metro areas for higher wages and probably not cognizant of the issue of higher productivity, but I would wager that not only does the availability of wired and wireless broadband help increase productivity but bottle-necking the availability of additional spectrum would adversely impact urban economies and commerce.

I would argue that the desire to work in close proximity of other entrepreneurs drives the move to cities, although I have no empirical data to back this up. The increase in co-working areas in Atlanta, Baltimore, and other urban centers may add some weight to this observation.

What does this mean for wireless broadband? It creates an exigency in the spectrum crunch. Further urbanization places increased demand on existing facilities and creates the need for innovative solutions to acquire more spectrum. It means that the Federal Communications Commission cannot afford to delay auctions and in particular must get on with crafting rules for its reverse auction for television broadcast spectrum.

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As the FCC creeps to a spectrum solution, the private sector speeds towards one

Stefan Weitz, director of search for Bing, describes in a post for GigaOm.com how frequency intelligent wireless devices and apps could help the industry address the coming spectrum crunch, where wireless devices from laptops to tablets could stop working like a scene from a sci-fi “B” movie.

The Federal Communications Commission is pursuing the goal of making more spectrum available by implementing a reverse auction policy to incentivize broadcasters to give up their frequencies and hopefully leaving them enough pocket change to “relocate” to other sections of the spectrum beach. Some of the proceeds will also be used to finance a national public safety communications network.

The other policy being considered and one the FCC may have less control over is the relinquishing of spectrum held by federal government agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense. Estimates as high as ten years have been bantered about for how long it would take an agency to give up spectrum and relocate to another portion of the beach. That time frame is definitely to far out to meet the impending spectrum crunch doom of 2015.

Mr. Weitz describes work in software defined radios, where future devices could hop across frequencies. Apps could also use software defined radio to “hop on” a frequency that where there is not much competition for its bandwidth or an app that moves packets but is in no rush to move the data so it opts for riding a 3G network instead of the faster 4G ride.

Mr. Weitz also discusses the use of pico cells, small cell technology that have been shown as effective for increasing capacity in dense, urban areas. As Mr. Weitz concludes in his post;

“Is the spectrum’s ability to keep pace with devices and data a problem tomorrow? No. But if the rapid upticks witnessed over the last few years are any indication, it’s clear: we need smarter spectrum allocation and, more importantly, smarter use thereof.”

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You have to admire Anna Eshoo

The House sub-committee on communications and technology met today to discuss the relocation of federal spectrum and the challenges to spectrum sharing. My takeaway from the discussion was a low expectation that federal agencies will be able to get it together on finding ways to relocate and money to upgrade their facilities should they have to inhabit new real estate along the spectrum beach head.

Honestly, the representative from the Department of Defense, Teri Takai, made a good argument about concerns DOD had about interference with its air combat preparedness. Being a member of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary myself, her argument honestly hit a cord with me. I’d rather the military keep their spectrum or at least be given a sufficient amount of time to carefully assess what frequencies they can live without.

I didn’t hear any of the congressmen suggest (threaten) any new legislation that would (in your dreams) expedite the vacate of spectrum bands by the federal government. Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, minced no words when she expressed her displeasure at how long it was taken federal agencies to come up with a plan to relocate their frequencies. She’s expended a little political capital on the issue based on recent comments she made in support of President Obama’s creation of a spectrum task force team:

“I welcome the administration’s creation of a spectrum policy team, operating as a joint venture between federal agencies uniquely positioned to maximize the efficiency and value of our nation’s airwaves. Relinquishing or sharing underutilized spectrum can yield more efficient use of this limited resource and help to propel our communications economy even further into the digital age.”

The sub-committee is exhibiting bi-partisan energy on the matter. You really can’t get to partisan about spectrum.

The sub-committee chairman, Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, seemed pretty upbeat about today’s meeting as well:

“I’m convinced we can upgrade federal systems while freeing spectrum, thereby promoting both our nation’s safety and economic well-being. Last year, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, including the commercial incentive auction provisions that were the fruits of this subcommittee’s labor. Such auctions can help make spectrum available to meet the growing demand from mobile broadband services, provided the FCC gets the auction and band plans right,” said Chairman Walden. “Building on the knowledge gained by the working group, today we look at the tools available to maintain and even improve federal agencies capabilities while freeing spectrum for commercial use.”

Congress is limited by how much fire it can put under the butts of federal agencies. Leadership will have to come from the executive branch and I don’t see President Obama being able to push the military any harder. It’s not worth his political capital.

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Spectrum sharing is a policy initiative FCC will move forward on

Posted October 5th, 2012 in FCC, Government Regulation, spectrum, spectrum sharing, wireless communications and tagged , by Alton Drew

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to make spectrum sharing his next policy initiative going forward in the FCC’s attempt to identify more spectrum to meet increasing demand for this natural resource. Chairman Genachowski alluded to this much in an address yesterday at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Spectrum sharing occurs when multiple wireless systems work together in the same frequency bands. Two technologies that enable spectrum sharing are cognitive radio and Dynamic Spectrum Access. These technologies allow communications to switch instantly between frequencies not in use.