GOP platform: Sell off government spectrum

The 2012 platform adopted Aug. 28 by the Republican National Convention calls for selling off excess government spectrum for use by commercial developers for broadband Internet access.

The reallocation of scarce RF spectrum is part of a pro-business agenda that also condemns government regulation of the Internet, except for ensuring that cyberspace is a “family friendly” environment free of online gambling.

The plank on spectrum reallocation does not specify what airwaves would be sold off, but called for an inventory of federally held spectrum to determine what is surplus and for auctioning that surplus to commercial carriers and developers.

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The call comes at a time of reorganization for much of the communications spectrum due to a shift to digital communications, which makes more efficient use of available frequencies, and an expanded use of wireless communications for growing variety of data, voice and video uses.

The plan to auction off unused or underused spectrum is not new. A presidential memorandum in 2010 directs the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees government use of RF spectrum, to work with the Federal Communications Commission to make a total of 500 MHz of bandwidth available for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use over the next 10 years. The plan calls for the agencies to ensure there is “no loss of critical existing and planned federal, state, local and tribal government capabilities.”

But shifting frequency use is a complex and sometimes dicey task. Bandwidth set aside for a national public safety network after the migration of television broadcasters to digital formats still is awaiting a plan for what the network will consist of and how it will be owned, used and managed. And earlier this year, the FCC scotched plans for the company LightSquared to become a national wireless carrier because its technology could interfere with Global Positioning System signals. GPS is a Defense Department system with millions of private users through commercial services around the world, including the aviation industry.

The GOP platform contains 20 mentions of the Internet, mostly lauding it as an economic driver and an engine of democracy that must be protected from the “Luddite approach to technological progress” and FCC “micromanaging” that has inhibited its growth under the Obama administration.

The warnings are difficult to square with figures on Internet growth in recent years. According to Internet World Statistics, the number of Internet users worldwide grew by 43 percent during the first three years of the Obama administration, from1.6 billion in March 2009 to 2.3 billion in March 2012. North America, with 273 million users at the end of 2011, had the highest penetration of Internet usage at 78.6 percent, a figure that has grown by 152 percent over the last decade.

The platform complains that the Internet is being regulated under 19th century rules that originally gave the Interstate Commerce Commission authority over railroads. “This is not a good fit,” it says. Even the Telecom Act of 1996 is “woefully out of date.”

The party promises to remove regulatory barriers to innovation and resist any move away from the current multi-stakeholder model of governance to one of government control “by international or other intergovernmental organizations,” including the United Nations. “We oppose any diplomatic efforts that could result in giving the United Nations unprecedented control over the Internet. International regulatory control over the open and free Internet would have disastrous consequences for the United States and the world.”

Instead of regulation, the platform advocates a “public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy.”

The one exception to this hands-off approach appears to be gambling. In an effort to make the Internet family friendly, “we support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet.”

The platform comes out in favor of privacy rights and includes the statement that “we will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties.”

This is a curious statement because the right to “control the use of their data by third parties” is a European concept not enjoyed in America, where personal data belongs to whoever has it. The platform states that “the only way to safeguard or improve these [privacy] systems is through the private sector.” The private sector happens to be the third parties exploiting the personal information.

The Republicans also want to see more government use of the Internet in enforcing immigration laws. The platform calls for the mandatory use of the Internet-based Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program and the E-verify program.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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