Shared spectrum: Tell the FCC to keep some wireless spectrum free

[Commentary] Wireless spectrum is such a central part of our daily lives that we forget how much we depend on it.

It's not just our smartphones and tablets that use it. Baby monitors, cordless phones, security systems, smart meters and thousands of other essential gadgets need shared, or unlicensed, spectrum to deliver their vital services at an affordable price. But we are in danger of losing these naturally shared airwaves to a select few corporations.

Over the next two months, the Federal Communications Commission will make critical decisions about the wireless auction in early 2015. The FCC faces enormous pressure from budget hawks and big wireless companies to auction off as much as possible, including spectrum already designated for shared use. This shortsighted and anti-competitive approach could close the open airwaves that are becoming the next frontier for innovation and economic growth.

A new report by Columbia Business School professor Raul Katz released by a new coalition called WifiForward found that shared spectrum contributed $222 billion to the US economy in 2013. That includes $36 billion in direct savings to consumers.

If you are the wireless industry big dogs, killing unlicensed spectrum makes sense. But if you're the rest of us -- consumers and small businesses who benefit from competition and affordability -- shared spectrum is a critical part of our future economy. This isn't about choosing between selling off public spectrum and sharing it. Even if we keep some spectrum for shared use, we will have plenty of public airwaves to auction in 2015. If the FCC strikes the right balance, we can have a hugely successful auction and enough shared spectrum to keep growing the competitive part of the wireless economy. [Feld is senior vice president of the nonprofit Public Knowledge]

Shared spectrum: Tell the FCC to keep some wireless spectrum free