EFF comments on FCC Unlicensed Spectrum Proposal

Cory Doctorow, Outreach Coordinator of the EFF (other hats too) has written a great comment to the FCC regarding its proposed rule changes that would open up more spectrum for unlicensed use.  It is a very counter-intuitive proposal for people who grew up with the idea of incentives through licenses and monopolies, but the wild success of technologies like WiFi, 900MHz phones, 2.4Ghz baby monitors and the like show that by taking a less restrictive approach and by enforcing minimal standards (devices must be licensed, maximum power levels, devices must accept interference, etc) tremendously cool technologies to solve radio problems (smart radios, spread spectrum, etc) reduce the limitations and companies spring up to capitalize on them.  The FCC has a unique opportunity to continue the revitalization in the decentralized telecom world, build new businesses and technologies, and engage American creativity in open technologies. 

The FCC is looking to open up spectrum in two interesting bands - the 3.6GHz band and below the 900MHz band (in the VHF TV bands). The more interesting band IMHO is the TV bands, because of the potential for use in wireless broadband uses. The lower the frequency, the less aggregate bandwith is possible, but the greater the penetrating power. And for wireless internet connectivity, directed beams of unlicensed transmitters in these lower bands could more effectively penetrate foliage and into structures. This is very good news for most customers who are stuck with the copper in the ground laid a hundred years ago by Ma Bell for "broadband".

Cory also makes the argument that spectrum policy is also a free speech issue - increasing the amount of unlicensed spectrum makes it easier for people (and devices) to communicate. While I agree with the priciple, I'm not so sure that it applies well to the question at hand, unless you take the position that the government's current licensing policy stifles free speech, and I'm not sure that it does.

Even with minor quibbles, though, the policy proposal is still sound, and will help to expand the possibilities in one of the few places of blue-sky innovation left in today's times.