This is how the government currently divides the airwaves: whoever is awarded spectrum gets to keep it, across the entire country, until they either stop paying for a license or the government takes it back in a complicated court case.
Obama wanted a better way and ordered his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to come up with one that would free up 500 MHz of spectrum. They came back with a recommendation that frees up 1000 MHz by actually using it scientifically and sensibly instead of treating it like new land “discovered” and sold to the highest bidder:
Two trends are especially important. First, instead of just the tall cell towers that provide coverage for very large geographic areas, many wireless services are already moving to ‘small cell’ operations that provide services for very small geographic areas, reducing the potential for interference so that other services may operate much closer to them. The huge explosion of WiFi services is one example of this evolution. Second, improvements in performance make it possible for devices to deliver services seamlessly even in the presence of signals from other systems, so that they do not need exclusive frequency assignments, only an assurance that potentially interfering signals will not rise above a certain level.
Basically the council is arguing that spectrum can be shared: the government might need it in one place or at one time, but the rest of the time, we can crowd onto it playing Words With Friends, insulting each other over our politics on Facebook, and generally doing that Web 2.0 stuff that made Facebook such an overvalued Internet stock.
It’s a shockingly sensible and intelligent approach that has a decent chance of being implemented since it opens up a lot of spectrum to private companies. In other words, government might actually get something done before the elections for once.
image courtesy Apple