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The Artful Spectrum Dodge

Nationwide wireless broadband is a worthwhile endeavor. Few would disagree, unless you count the 53 percent of folks in the August Pew study who don’t believe the “spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority.” Or the 21 percent of Americans who don’t use the Internet and don’t care to—twice that of households that rely on over-the-air television. Forget about the 51 percent who don’t see lack of broadband access as a “major disadvantage” with regard to job opportunities.

Let’s put those folks aside for a moment and assume they’re just backward inbreds who don’t comprehend that wireless broadband is an ARPU bonanza for private-equity investors. Nothing wrong with that per se, except perhaps for the bothersome notion that the airwaves belong to the people. Therein lay the obsolescence of America’s current spectrum model—not that broadcasters occupy a portion of it, as is proffered by the chief investor at the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski.

“Less than 10 percent of us... still get our television programming from over-the-air broadcast transmissions,” the CI said recently at a podium in Atlanta. “The world has changed, but our spectrum allocations still reflect the previous era. This presents a real obstacle as we try to ensure a spectrum infrastructure for the new world of mobile broadband.”

In that same speech, Genachowski cited a study from the National Science Foundation that ranked 40 nations “on a small number of metrics relating to competitiveness and innovative capacity, metrics that included broadband.”

The United States ranked 40th in terms of improving.

“Beyond unacceptable,” the chief said.

Never mind those metrics included K-12 science and math education, engineering research, economic policy and available funding for higher education, among others. Such facts don’t serve to obfuscate the Administration’s attempt to appease Wall Street by handing over the public airwaves for incremental revenue opportunities.
- Deborah McAdams