Ina Fried

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FCC Chairman to Congress: Hands Off Unlicensed Spectrum

Speaking in Silicon Valley on Thursday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke of the need for his agency to retain authority over unlicensed areas of spectrum in addition to that doled out to specific parties.

“Leave the FCC the flexibility to make sure there is efficient use of spectrum, including unlicensed spectrum, so that we can adjust to the needs of the future,” Genachowski told AllThingsD in an interview. Genachowski was in town for an event announcing winners of a contest to develop community apps that make use of government data.

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would include something the chairman badly wants: incentive auctions that would free up badly needed spectrum for wireless broadband. However, the bill also includes a provision that would limit the agency’s authority to manage unlicensed spectrum bands, something Genachowski opposes.

At one point during the event, held at the offices of Andreessen Horowitz, I asked for the password to the venture firm’s guest network.

“That’s why we need Wi-Fi,” Genachowski said, a reference to the fact that Wi-Fi is possible only because the FCC has been able to preserve and make available unlicensed bands of spectrum.

In a follow-up interview, he talked about the need for such spectrum.

“It takes spectrum that doesn’t lend itself for the same use (as that licensed to carriers and others) and says ‘Let’s put it out there as a platform for innovaton,’ not knowing exactly what will happen,” Genachowski said. “When the FCC first did this, no one knew that it would lead to Wi-Fi.”

Unlicensed spectrum has been used, he said, to help meet the challenges of lots of groups, including those faced by the wireless carriers that have licensed spectrum, Genachowski said.

“Wi-Fi itself has gone from something that was resisted by the licensed carriers to something that is now embraced because it is such an important part of addressing demands on spectrum. Wi-Fi offload is a critical part of the system.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work