O.K., Julie opens with a basic summary that technology now lets us do this. Rules recommended are a conservative first step. Appropriate safeguards for interference protection. Now, Hugh Van Tuyl will present the Order. Take it Hugh!
As reported by Broadband Reports and now confirmed elsewhere, a Time Warner internal memo indicates Time Warner will pilot a program where it has an explicit bandwidth cap, and users that exceed the cap will pay additional explicit fees — rather like what happens now with your standard cell phone package where you buy a bundle of minutes and then pay for any overages. The pilot will include a website to allow customers to track their usage, moderate their behavior, or buy additional capacity if they wish.
I agree with Dave Isenberg that this is the best way for Time Warner to handle its network capacity constraints and address the supposed 5% of users gobbling 50% of the bandwidth. We can expect some heavy users to move to other networks without caps, but also expect that users that use much less capacity and frustrated by congestion caused by heavy use by others to prefer plans like Time Warner’s because it should produce a less congested pipe overall.
Every now and then, I take a break from the delightful and snarky world of blogging to dash off the odd researched piece for an academic journal. This is always an annoying and painstaking process, because academic journals want footnotes not just the occassional link. They also dislike articles that use terms like “incumbent whankers.”
For those unsure if its worth slogging through 39 pages of lawyer writing, here’s a summary. The FCC has a basic hierarchy of licensed spectrum, licensed by rule (family radio service and a few other things), and unlicensed spectrum. From a wireless perspective, the FCC exists for licensed spectrum, has a few oddball things licensed by rule, and has a few slivers of space open for unlicensed spectrum. Unlicensed spectrum is the “third class citizen,” required to shut off if it causes the least interference to licensed services while accepting any interference that comes its way. When the FCC allocates spectrum rights, it does everything possible for licensed services while looking with askance at the free-wheeling unlicensed poor relation. As a result, licensed services get choice spectrum and unlicensed services get the leavings — and that on sufferance.
In my article, I argue that the First Amendment calls for standing this on its head. Licensing of spectrum came about because old technology couldn’t handle everyone using this all at once we call this the “scarcity rationale,” because the need to license spectrum to avoid interference made licenses ‘scarce’). But because the FCC must give the approval for any new technologies, the technology to eliminate scarcity (and thus eliminate the need for exclusive licensing) will never come about. This circular reasoning offends the First Amendment. Accordingly, when the FCC considers whether to permit unlicensed uses, it should need to justify its decisions under a higher Constitutional standard than it does in other licensing cases (“intermediate scrutiny” rather than “rational basis” for all you legal types out there).
Besides, I argue, it’s also better policy.
While I hardly expect the FCC and the federal courts to read my piece and exclaim: “At last! What perfect wisdom! What fools we have been!” I do hope this helps advance the debate some. As with everyone else who publishes in a field where the debate has simmered for a few years, I argue for a “third way” between licensing and commons. Rather than eliminating exclusive licensing altogether, or proposing we split the spectrum down the middle, I propose allowing a gradual evolution in technology and until exclusive licensing will gradually wither away, with perhaps a handful of truly sensitive services still licensed exclusively.
Of course, if that happened, your cell phone bill would drop like a rock, ubiquitous wireless broadband would become too cheap to meter, and television and radio conglomerates would lose their precious monopolies on the airwaves. So don’t hold your breath.
I was recently asked by another organization to take a stab at my vision of progressive principles of spectrum management. My goal is to provide a set of guiding principles that go beyond mere economic efficiency or even freedom to innovate. While I feel these are important elements of any policy, the overarching goal of spectrum management should be, in the words of the Communications Act, “to make available to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex” the benefits of our communications system.
These are my own thoughts, and I am very curious to receive wider feedback from the Community at large. Please also keep in mind that these are a draft and represent my own best efforts and opinions. They do not represent any official position of any organization, and are certainly not the position of Media Access Project.