Standing on common ground: Congress should pick up where Waxman left off

David Sutphen Internet Innovation AllianceDemonstrated by two different government bodies in just the past few weeks, common ground can be found even in murky territory.

On September 23, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unlocked the first significant block of spectrum for unlicensed use in over two decades, and just recently, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) neared success with a bill that would have helped resolve the net neutrality debate, having been agreed upon by a gamut of industry players.  

In the case of the FCC, the conversion of television signals from analog to digital changed the available airwaves, representing an opportunity for the government agency to make a positive change.  Elevating the common good--what's in the best interest for consumers, innovators and the economy overall--the Commission banded together with a 5-0 vote to open a vast amount of these vacant airwaves--known as "white spaces"--for wireless broadband networks and other unlicensed applications.

By removing a barrier to investment in broadband and taking policy action to maximize a scarce and congested resource--spectrum--the FCC laid the groundwork for the rise of the next generation of wireless technologies. And according to a study from Richard Thanki of Perspective Associates, the white space applications made possible by the Commission's decision could generate $3.9 billion to $7.3 billion in economic value annually.

Also a solution that would support economic recovery, Waxman spent several recent weeks collaborating with consumer groups, major telecommunications and cable providers, trade associations and advocacy organizations to draft a net neutrality bill that would serve as an alternative to Title II reclassification of broadband services, an option that would likely undermine investment and stifle job creation.

Although the Waxman bill did not arrive at its intended destination--the House floor--the progress made proves that a compromise for what seemed to be a deadlock debate can be reached. Congress should take action on Title II, as it's now clear that a legislative solution is possible and consensus exists.

Both the FCC decision and Waxman effort bring us closer to meeting the objectives set forth by the National Broadband Plan. Freeing up white spaces paves the way for "super WiFi," which will likely help extend wireless broadband access to unserved and underserved people in rural and urban communities. It also gives entrepreneurs and engineers room to run. Waxman's bill showed that, collectively, we can settle the net neutrality debate and move on to goals that mean something to every American, such as job creation and affordable access to broadband.  Now is not the time to wipe the slate clean and revert to calls for Title II; now is the time for Congress to pick up where Waxman left off.

David Sutphen, a regular FierceTelecom columnist writing about regulatory issues, is the co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA).