I signed up for the Spectrum Conference at the Stanford Law School today and tomorrow, but decided to bail when FCC chairman Michael Powell bailed. Reading the blog accounts, like this one at Scripting News, maybe I didn’t miss much:
…these guys are part of a fraternity, they talk about things that mean nothing to me. I’m a stranger here. I don’t get it.
This is one of those deals where two worlds collide: policy makers and regulators don’t understand technology, and technologists don’t understand the policy and political issues. So they end up talking past each other, and don’t really say all that much of value anyhow. Plus, a couple blogs reported that clueless attendees were comparing cell phones and cameras, and neither my cell phone nor my camera is state of the art, so I would have felt bad.
As I’ve said before, there are problems with the way the FCC regulates spectrum, but they aren’t legal problems related to property rights vs. commons, they’re more technical. The FCC says how much power you can pump into a given frequency with or without a license, but they don’t say what you do with that power in terms that make any sense to computer networkers. They need to adopt an approach where they regulate not just the power but the protocols, because some protocols share bandwidth well and some don’t. Spectrum is a scarce resource, because God isn’t making any more of it. Yes, there are clever ways to share spectrum that need to be encouraged, and bad ways to use spectrum that don’t share well and need to be discouraged.
In unlicensed spectrum, protocols need to be regulated. The appropriate analogy isn’t the Internet, because its pipes don’t have an interference problem; the analogy that people can understand is spam. Some uses of spectrum are junk, and these need to be curtailed.
Connecting neighborhoods to the net with WiFi is a junk application, for example; there are better ways to do that.