More “White Space” Fear-Mongering

On Saturday, February 9, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing against the approval of white-space devices.

Rep. Nadler rightly points out that current white-space devices haven’t lived up to expectations. In recent FCC testing, devices were unsuccessful in avoiding interference. But as technologies evolve, devices able to actively sense conflicting transmissions will likely emerge, and mesh networks using otherwise unoccupied spaces may well become a reality. In fact, just a few weeks ago, a group of manufacturers submitted a new set of prototypes to the FCC that are supposedly more reliable and accurate than previous submissions.

He also suggests that Broadway performers, sportscasters, and TV stations are somehow more deserving than Microsoft and others when it comes to broadcasting on these frequencies. Whether or not Nadler is correct, he goes too far with overblown fear mongering about what might happen were companies allowed to develop white-space networks. There’s no reason to worry that anybody will have trouble watching television because of white-space interference — surely any business deploying white space services would be expected to steer clear of any television broadcast or RF microphone transmission.

Divvying up these unoccupied frequencies is a very tough job. That’s why markets, not politicians or bureaucrats, should decide how scarce frequencies are best used.

If private ownership prevailed over the wireless spectrum, efficient agreements would be reached and competing claims would be resolved with no need for government involvement. Perhaps Microsoft would sign a contract with a frequency management firm to offer services on certain bands in unoccupied areas for a fee, subject to a clause prohibiting interference with alternative uses. Likewise, sportscasters and performers could rent narrow slices of frequencies needed for wireless communications. Price signals and incentives would create a thriving marketplace far more competitive than any command-and-control system.

The white-spaces debate highlights the flaws of government control of the wireless spectrum. As long as the FCC remains in charge of the spectrum, controversies like this will continue to arise as frequencies grow scarcer and innovators develop new ways to communicate wirelessly.

The future of our airwaves is too promising to be left in the hands of government regulators.