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"Internet speed" vs. "Government speed"

Your blogger has given several talks in the past 2 weeks in Singapore and Japan on the general topic of spectrum policy and technical innovation. In preparing for these, a recurring thought was the relationship between “Internet speed” and “government speed”.

“Internet speed” is the astonishing exponential growth that has marked the growth of both the Internet and many other contemporary digital technologies. “Government speed” is the speed at which governments operate. Now some governments operate faster than others, but in the big scheme of things the difference isn’t that great. Any semblance of due process forces governments to deliberate over the impact of possible decisions and consider alternatives. Maybe the N. Korean government might be faster than more democratic governments, but that could only happen if “Dear Leader” focuses on the issue in question, which is probably unlikely for the topic of spectrum policy.

Any form of spectrum regulation which is “prescriptive” - saying what can be done and by implication forbidding everything else - inevitably will cause problems as technology moves on and the IT needs of a society and economy evolve at Internet speed. Of course, regulatiosn are doomed to fall behind because of the much slower “government speed”.

This is why the May 9, 1985 FCC Docket 81-413 decision was so successful in enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It didn’t try to create a Soviet style plan for technology, rather it removed barriers and set interference-related regulations. It was a fail-safe decision in that if now one every utilized it, no one would have been harmed either. Thus when interest developed in wireless LANs within a few years, the proponents did not have to go beg regulators for a sliver of spectrum and fight off others who coveted their goal. The 81-413 gave them the green light as well as allowing other uses of the ISM bands.

In general this problem continues and the only way to address it is a combination of deregulation to allow spectrum to evolve faster in most non-public safety applications and secondary markets to allow new users to get rapid access to spectrum. Faster adoption of regulations will inevitably fail to keep up.
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