TAC Sets the Stage

TAC Sets the Stage

by Barry D. Umansky, J.D.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Technological Advisory Council (TAC) is a little known private-public advisory committee in Washington. Its actions, however, could have a profound impact on our economy and our daily lives.

At a recent TAC meeting, the group recommended a series of actions that could help shape the future of mobile broadband. Suggestions included encouraging the FCC to start a proceeding to encourage further investment in mobile broadband, hold a workshop to discuss future technologies for mobile broadband, and examine more closely the concept of how to best harmonize spectrum usage rules on a global basis. These proposals may sound bureaucratic, but – if done right — they could help protect and ensure the future of mobile broadband.

All over the world, consumers and businesses are sending and receiving more and more data. Cisco reports that global mobile data traffic grew 70 percent in 2012, and that mobile video traffic now accounts for more than 50 percent of data traffic. As users migrate to more powerful devices, such as 4G devices, they use more data. Such increased data usage means even greater demand for mobile broadband in the future, as future generation wireless devices are rolled out. Governments and network operators must work –now –to address how to ensure enough bandwidth for the future.

The future of mobile broadband depends both on the work of engineers and the simple availability of spectrum. This is why it is so important to heed the TAC’s suggestion to bring all stakeholders together to investigate and solve interference concerns, and to enable engineers to continue their work toward devising new ways for multiple users to share the same spectrum under clearly-defined standards. That way, mobile broadband can become even more useful and robust than it is today, opening the door to new services and applications.

The TAC’s work reminds us that innovation is best achieved by focusing on engineering, not politics. As Lynn Claudy of the National Association of Broadcasters said, “it’s amazing how much progress [can be made] if the political and policy stuff is checked at the door.” He’s exactly right.

The FCC’s role here, however, should be to monitor the process, keep the TAC moving forward, and provide overall support for disparate stakeholders that convene to reach agreements. Such collaboration will make it feasible to tackle a task as ambitious as potential harmonization of global spectrum usage, a key factor for enhancing global economic activity. Such multi-stakeholder approaches have worked before, such as the government-industry consortium that set standards and systems for the migration of U.S. analog television to digital technology. AT&T

has suggested a similar strategy to smooth the full transition away from outdated legacy networks to more modern high-speed broadband networks of the future.

While this technical work is good and necessary, more has to be done. Right now, the best thing the FCC can do is to get more “wireless” spectrum into the U.S. market. As consumer data usage continues to explode, anything the government can do to encourage more efficient and more valuable wireless use of spectrum is welcome. The main goal, however, remains getting 500 megahertz of new spectrum into the U.S. market for consumer wireless use, as the FCC’s National Broadband Plan proposed in 2010 and as former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski reaffirmed last year. A key element in achieving that goal is the FCC’s conducting of voluntary incentive spectrum auctions next year – auctions that Congress demanded – under fair rules permitting all interested parties to bid, and designed to get as much spectrum available for consumer use as possible.

It’s going to take both tasks – more spectrum and more imaginative use of that spectrum – to make the future of mobile broadband as bright as it can be. Kudos to the TAC for its efforts to move the process forward.