|Open access is the future|
|Flawed technical assumptions in the Supreme Court's 2G judgment, and possible ways forward for the government|
|Shyam Ponappa / Mar 04, 2012|
With developments in technology, some advocate open spectrum predicated on the use of “cognitive radio” or “software-defined radio”, by which user equipment avoids interference by sensing unused channels automatically. In this model, open-access spectrum is a commons.
Another approach is to use a database-driven open-access model, whereby devices register with a database, and are dynamically assigned spectrum as needed. If this were possible in 1959, when Ronald Coase first recommended auctions, it would not have been necessary to parcel out spectrum. Even in America’s developed economy, the first auction was in 1994, and it failed.1 Now, technological developments enable spectrum sharing and dynamic assignment. America’s FCC has appointed 10 database administrators for dynamic spectrum allocation, with Spectrum Bridge being the first — in operation from January 2012.
America restricts this approach to unused spectrum in the TV bands, and a portion of the 700 MHz band, called “TV white spaces” (TVWS). The UK’s Ofcom is taking similar steps, with implementation planned for 2013. While all licensed frequencies could be pooled, sharing is restricted to TVWS because of conventions and legacies, and operators’ and governments’ preference for auctions. This judgment rules out sharing, blocking other technologies if the spectrum were available.
The lure of auctions
For markets like India, there is every reason from a technology perspective to share not only TVWS and 700 MHz, but all commercially licensed spectrum. There is a technological basis for pooled spectrum, without exclusive assignment and auctions. Yet people love auctions: liberals, because business must pay its way, and governments get revenues; conservatives, because market mechanisms substitute for government controls.2 Operators prefer exclusive assignment to the uncertainties of open access and compensation for their holdings. Governments want auction revenues. So neither governments, nor big operators, nor the uninformed public, see incentives for pursuing what is in the public interest: shared spectrum.
2: Paraphrasing Eli Noam: http://www.citi.columbia.edu/elinoam/articles/beyond_auctions.htm
3: For details, see: http://organizing india.blogspot.com/2011/06/ntp-2011-objective-broadband.html