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Senate will hear our Web woes

Small towns face uphill struggle when spectrum space goes out for bids

WASHINGTON – Imagine you’re about to tune into your favorite TV program. You turn on the tube and catch the first few moments, but then, it stops – you’ve lost the signal. If your home is in a rural area, you know you can’t catch the program later using the Internet because there are no providers serving your area.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation began a series of hearings Wednesday to address these and related issues as a growing number of mobile Internet devices present challenges by using up a finite amount of spectrum – the airwaves that traditional mediums such as local TV stations rely on.

Traditional broadcast mediums use wired Internet, which requires licensed use of spectrum via various federal agencies. Mobile devices such as wearable technology, phones and hot spots use wireless Internet, which is unlicensed.

“We’re facing a transition from a rural spectrum society to an urban spectrum society,” said Dr. Pierre De Vries, co-director of the Spectrum Policy Institute at the University of Colorado School of Law, testifying before the committee. “Now we’re building an infrastructure where a feedlot is using spectrum right next to suburban housing units.”

Jessica Rosenworcel, a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, was not too concerned about competition between mobile devices and local TV stations in rural areas. She said the bigger challenge is deploying available spectrum in those areas to begin with.

Because rural communities have smaller amounts of people, it’s more difficult for them to afford access to spectrum. She said it would be important to promote federal agencies auctioneering spectrum packages that are small enough for potential service providers in rural communities to afford. She also advised simply building more towers to access unlicensed wireless Internet.

This hit home with Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., whose state has gotten some attention as an ideal location for telecommuters.

“Millennials want to stand in the stream holding a fly rod in one hand and a mobile device in the other,” he said. “There are only two service providers in the state, and neither of them are reaching the rural or tribal communities.”

The FCC already offers a tribal bidding credit that Native American communities can use to help buy spectrum. Rosenworcel said FCC’s processes should be updated to ensure that large companies don’t abuse bidding credits intended for smaller providers.

To aid access to rural communities, Meredith Atwell Baker, president and CEO of The Wireless Association, supports a bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to expedite placing wireless technology on federal lands.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said he’s working with colleagues who serve on the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate to craft and advance reforms to the FCC that allow for more small-carrier access to the spectrum market to increase rural communities’ access to broadband.

“However, there must be increased transparency and accountability for federal projects and programs that are supposed to increase broadband connectivity in rural areas, because so far, the federal government’s attempts to do so have largely failed.”

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern with The Durango Herald.

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