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McAdams On: Treachery with a Smile

It would be the height of cynicism to assert the Genachowski FCC has become a propaganda machine for the wireless industry. Only the most jaded conspiracy theorist could imagine that a Web entrepreneur temporarily appointed as a government regulator would have a self-serving agenda. Such skepticism implies that service is something perpetrated upon the public rather than for it.

Were such cynicism to exist, some of the language being emitted by the current FCC would do nothing to mollify it. Take “FCC Spectrum Task Force Announces Plan to Unleash Additional Spectrum for Mobile Broadband,” the title of a commission press release issued this morning.

The FCC Task Force is going to “unleash” spectrum, which is apparently being held in servitude scrubbing a hearth while its step-sisters dress for the ball. To unleash in this case means to “take.” “FCC Spectrum Task Force Announces Plan to Take Spectrum From Incumbents and Give it to Wireless Providers.”

How hard is that? Perhaps “take” lacks nuance. I think we’re looking for “reallocate,” but certainly not “unleash.” By its nature, spectrum cannot be “leashed,” at least not under the laws of physics as they are now understood.

The press release actually announces the commission’s intention to launch a proceeding to reallocate 90 MHz of spectrum now designated for Mobile Satellite Services. The MSS proceeding is part of the FCC’s larger agenda to free up 300 MHz of spectrum for a nationwide wireless broadband network. A similar proposal to reallocate 120 MHz of TV broadcast spectrum is scheduled to be launched in the third quarter of this year.

The MSS announcement includes the type of quote from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that has come to characterize his particularly strident tone regarding the National Broadband Plan:

“The mobile broadband revolution is upon us, the opportunities are huge, and the FCC is committed to ensuring that America has the spectrum it needs to lead the world.”

Who in their right mind doesn’t want America to have the spectrum it needs to lead the world? Other than just about everyone outside of America, that is. Be that as it may, the commission’s drive to implement the NBP has an increasingly evangelical ring to it. It’s as if challenging the premise is an act of treason.

The skeptic’s main problem with the FCC’s new dialect is that it’s being used in place of a true dialectic. Jingoistic blandishments are proffered instead of straight-forward statements backed by accurate, current research. The commission’s third technical paper on broadcast-for-broadband spectrum was released this week and started thusly:

“Mobile broadband networks, devices and applications are a critical component of the overall broadband landscape and increasingly central to the productivity of American workers, the global leadership position of American innovation and the daily lives of tens of millions of American consumers. Spectrum is the nourishment for mobile broadband...”

The word “nourishment” here implies a starvation which does not exist. Current mobile broadband providers are sitting on plenty of undeveloped spectrum as it is. It would behoove the FCC and all of the stakeholders in the National Broadband Plan to first ferret out that spectrum before strong-arming current license holders. No amount of patriotic-sounding prattle is going to disguise a biased process. Chairman Genachowski could serve the FCC and the public far better with less rhetoric and more science. At least he could muzzle a few cynics.