How the U.S. telecommunications industry helped America manage and get through the COVID-19 pandemic can be a lesson for other industries and for the U.S. government, which has been hamstrung by a failure of imagination common to those working in bureaucratic institutions. Consider where we’d be if the phone, cable, and satellite companies had been unable to keep us connected.
The migration was rapid and thorough once the closures began. Collegiate and local classrooms moved online. Grocery items started coming into our homes from web sites rather than the mall. Telehealth exploded as doctors began to see patients over webcams instead of in the office. Examples of America’s resilience and resourcefulness were everywhere. The Internet allowed families to visit, for all of us to stay up to date on the latest advisories, and for each of us to remain plugged into civilization while unable to participate in it.
Mobile devices are just as important as the networks that connect them. Our smartphones have become our eyes and ears to the outside world. Their signals go where we now cannot, only because the Internet is an American product, governed largely by American ideals. If it were not, if the Chinese were in charge, for example, the official response to the pandemic would have probably included enforceable restrictions on Internet access or a complete shutdown of the ‘Net to stop the spread of information.
Whether it remains free and open depends on many factors. The People’s Republic of China has an unfair advantage in the global race to 5G. It has developed, through its Huawei subsidiary, technologies it’s trying to force the rest of the world to adopt. If they succeed, as I’ve written before, it would be a clear and present danger to the future of global commerce and the free flow of information.
In recognition of this, the Trump Administration has been right to acknowledge that a threat exists and to take steps to keep China and Huawei from winning. The Commerce Department is finalizing regulations aimed at limiting American firms’ sale of chips to Huawei. The Justice Department has charged them with conspiracy. That’s only a start. A government-wide effort is needed to blunt the impact of Huawei’s efforts to make it the global provider of choice for the world’s 5G needs.
As part of that, American consumers must continue to be allowed to buy smartphones and tablets made by companies other than Huawei. An obscure Irish company called Neodron, which recently filed patent complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission, could make that difficult.
Neodron, which is backed by some of the same people who brought us the mortgage securities financial crisis, has filed two complaints with the ITC alleging that virtually every non-Chinese smartphone and tablet maker – Apple, Amazon, Motorola, LG, and Samsung, to name but a few – is infringing on patents related to touchscreens.
If the commission agrees finds that to be so the only remedy it can impose would be an exclusion order that would effectively block the importation of any device found to be infringing on the patents at issue. That would include greater than 90 percent of all smartphones and over 90 percent of all tablets currently available in the U.S. market. The only device manufacturers left would pretty much be Chinese companies which could, therefore, control American markets. As we’ve seen over the past several months as the COVID-19 virus has spread, the Chinese cannot be trusted.
The ITC needs to dismiss the Neodron complaint post haste. It’s bad enough the company could lodge a complaint that might paralyze a critical sector of our economy. The U.S. government has no business giving away the kind of strategic advantage we could never get back to a potential enemy. The Chinese operate by their own rules when it suits them – even when it makes them poor global citizens. They’re out to dominate every aspect of the world economy. We’d be foolish to let that happen – and it would if the ITC finds in Neodron’s favor.
For us tail-end baby boomers, it’s probably true our view of what life might be like now was influenced by the “Back to the Future” series. Watching ‘Doc’ Brown and Marty travel just a few decades forward in time to a place where the Cubbies won the World Series, hoverboards were ubiquitous, and sneakers laced themselves seemed so wonderfully realistic we believed it was possible.
To be sure, some of the things depicted in “Back to the Future II” did come to pass. The Cubs did win a World Series – though not in the year predicted in the film. And technology has brought about other changes that, while not exactly like what was seen on screen, come close enough for government work that filmmakers Bob Zemeckis and Stephen Spielberg deserve a pat on the back for the visionary insight into how things might be.
One thing they got wrong was the whole business of flying cars. In the movie, they seemed to be standard transportation. In reality, they are just as tethered to the nation’s highways and byways as ever, with most of the innovations going toward fuel economy and alternative power plants. The idea of the airborne vehicle just never got off the ground.
Innovation, especially in the wireless sector, makes up for some of the disappointment. Surprisingly though, the intersection of communications technology and the automotive industry has not developed in the way people thought it might 20 years ago. That’s when the Federal Communications Commission established technology-specific rules for what it called “Dedicated Short Range Communications” in the 5.9 GHz band, reserving the space to allow cars, as it was put at the time, “to talk to one another” and to develop safety-related technologies.
A worthwhile effort to be sure, but other than a few heavily subsidized pilot projects that seem to hold little promise, there hasn’t been much movement toward the original vision, especially in the area of auto safety. At the same time, automakers have used other parts of the spectrum not reserved for these purposes to produce tremendous advances popular with consumers (like radar) and are using non-spectrum dependent tech like lidar, sensors, and cameras. Moreover, new auto communications technologies like CV2X want to access the 5.9 GHz band but can’t under the current rules that allow only for the original DSRC.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who deserves great credit for keeping adaptations to the Internet from being slowed by bureaucratic impulses, is poised to break the logjam. Rather than allow for the 5.9 GHz band to continue to go unused, he’s apparently ready to engage in rulemaking that would carve off the lower end of the band for additional wireless broadband use, while preserving the upper reaches for future automotive safety needs.
Putting new Wi-Fi in 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band will create the country’s first contiguous 160 MHz channel, something that is critical to the deployment of next-generation Wi-Fi 6, which is expected to bring gigabit and high-capacity Wi-Fi to American consumers. The unlicensed spectrum available in this area can be used to support 5G deployment. Cisco reportedly expects 71 percent of 5G mobile data will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022 – meaning current unlicensed spectrum resources will be insufficient to keep up with the changes.
It’s an excellent compromise, one that leaves the door open to future developments while recognizing the need for new broadband spectrum that exists today. In the two decades since the DSRC allocation, Wi-Fi has become a core communications technology relied upon in homes, businesses, factories, airports, and hospitals across the globe. It contributes more than $525 billion to the U.S. economy on an annual basis.
It’s earned the opportunity to expand even further.
By Star Beacon•
To you and me, the meaning of the word “temporary” is generally clear. But not when the folks in Washington use the word.
Consider the “temporary” telephone tax Congress imposed to help fund the Spanish-American War. If you check your history books, you’ll see that the war lasted from April to August of 1893. The tax, on the other hand, survived into the second Bush Administration.
Another “temporary” law, one intended to speed the commercialization, expansion, and consumer adoption of new technology is set to expire at the end of 2019. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) should be allowed to fade away, but political pressure being applied by the parties who benefit from it most may unhelpfully keep it alive.
No only have growth in the satellite television industry and advancements in technology made the continuation of STELAR unnecessary, it may never have been needed in the first. It was enacted just about 30 years ago to provide a significantly discounted compulsory copyright license to give satellite companies the right to import out-of-market network television signals into a local market. The alternative, forcing their retransmission to local broadcast stations over the air, was financial prohibitively and technologically challenging.
These rules were supposed to give satellite television a boost in their push to compete with the cable giants. It worked. Today, DirectTV is worth $235 billion, Dish is worth $17 billion, and both networks offer just about every programming option available.
Letting the STELAR Act expire wouldn’t be the end of the world. No one would have missed the final episode of “The Big Bang Theory” or the “Game of Thrones” finale.
What would go away are:
• The discounted compulsory copyright license for satellite retransmission of distant (or imported) broadcast signals to “unserved households.”
• A corresponding exemption from retransmission consent requirements for the carriage of these out-of-market network signals by satellite TV providers.
• The requirement broadcast TV stations and satellite and cable TV companies both negotiate carriage of local broadcast signals in good faith.
According to the broadcasters, the number of satellite television subscribers who’d be impacted if the law expires as intended is now down to just about half a million. And there’s every reason to believe consumers in those markets could find other ways to pick up network signals, either by taking them down over the air or as the beneficiaries of private arrangements between providers and broadcasters.
This corporate to corporate stuff shouldn’t have any impact on what almost every viewer in America can watch. In fact, without STELAR, it might give individual communities a lift since the incentive for satellite carries to offer network affiliates from outside the coverage area instead of local news goes away. The playing field, as it were, becomes level.
Mature, multibillion-dollar satellite companies don’t need crony capitalist legislation protecting their interests, especially when those interests include denying consumers local news, weather, sports, and emergency information. It’s time to let it go.
The Need to Explain
by Thomas Sowell
The most successful Republican presidential candidate of the past half century — Ronald Reagan, who was elected and reelected with landslide victories — bore little resemblance to the moderate candidates that Republican conventional wisdom depicts as the key to victory, even though most of these moderate candidates have in fact gone down to defeat.by Thomas Sowell
One of the biggest differences between Reagan and these latter-day losers was that Reagan paid great attention to explaining his policies and values. He was called “the great communicator,” but much more than a gift for words was involved. The issues that defined Reagan’s vision were things he had thought about, written about and debated for years before he reached the White House. Continue reading