Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spectrum sharing is not a partisan issue – NOT

After his keynote at Dyspan yesterday, PCAST member Mark Gorenberg and his podium guests (and spectrum report co-authors) Dennis Roberson and Michael Calabrese were asked about the political prospects for the PCAST spectrum sharing recommendations (pdf). I can’t remember exactly who said what, but the message was that spectrum sharing wasn’t a partisan issue. Not so.

The very term "sharing" carries ideological baggage, and is more a concept of the Left than the Right, evoking notions of (re)distribution, fairness and communalism. Its converse, exclusivity, connotes conservative notions of ownership, property and commerce. It’s no surprise that a PCAST working group picked by a Democratic administration (PCAST = Presidential Council of Advisors…) came out in favor of sharing; no-one should be surprised if it encounters resistance from the Right.

Admittedly, there are fewer difference between the vocabularies of the political parties than I would’ve guessed. A project by Joe Rim for a Brown University course found few notable differences in the language of State of the Union addresses since WWII, and the word counts for the 2012 conventions for Republicans and Democrats are not that different – everybody’s running the same focus groups.

Still, the center of gravity of the PCAST team is decidedly off to the left. Gorenberg is major donor to the Democratic Party, and Calabrese works for the left-leaning New America Foundation. Admittedly, Roberson is not involved in politics and his few donations lean to the Right (see the FEC disclosure database). The PCAST members that drove this report are both supporters of the Democratic Party: Craig Mundie of Microsoft (donations), and Eric Schmidt of Google (donations).

Of course, industry interests play as much of a role as political ones. The software industry has an interest in reducing the license-owning leverage that network operators could use to siphon off web service profits. Cellular companies and like-minded academics were excluded from the PCAST task force that wrote the report. Do the network operators lean Republican? According to 24/7 Wall St. Newsletter, AT&T was one of the ten companies making the biggest political contributions in 2012, and their donations split 65/35 in favor of the Republicans. (Microsoft was another, and it split 68/32 in favor of the Democrats.) However, Verizon’s contributions in state politics have been pretty evenly split, though its PAC donations have leaned Republican in 2012.

We’ll have to see how spectrum policy plays out in the next Congress and FCC. It’s probably a less partisan issue than network neutrality, but the language of sharing in the PCAST report has added partisan overtones to the discussion.

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