One doesn’t exactly have to reach to come up with reasons why 2016 will be an important year. Particularly in political and policy circles. After all, this is President Obama’s last year in office, with any number of the administration’s priorities still on the table, and Congress scrambling to get its last bills passed before the political season. Oh, and speaking of the political season, there’s also that little thing called a Presidential election coming up.
However, if you spend any time covering the world of emerging technology, it looks like 2016 will be an important year for an entirely different reason: namely, it will probably be the year when several fights over the future of wireless internet come to a head. For example, there’s the looming threat of the as-yet unknown impact that LTE-U technology will have, and the attendant prospect that a few companies like Verizon and Qualcomm might strangle wireless internet altogether in their quest for a few more dollars from their customers.
But as any policymaker knows, for every case of special interests being willing to ride roughshod over the concerns of others, there’s also a case of a special interest deliberately holding back progress. No better example of that currently exists than the attempt by the automotive industry to cling desperately onto resources that could otherwise be used to improve all Americans’ internet access, simply so for the sake of safeguarding an unjustified monopoly.
A little background: when people talk about “internet traffic,” it really is an apt metaphor. You see, in order to travel from, say, a server in California to your smartphone wirelessly, data has to use the digital equivalent of a highway known as a Spectrum Band. Prior to the advent of the internet, these “Spectrum Bands” were primarily used to convey radio waves or television broadcasts, but obviously, the rise of WiFi and other forms of wireless internet has made them a much more coveted resource. And, much like certain lanes on highways are reserved for certain types of traffic, certain Spectrum Bands work the same way.
And, speaking of cars, the automotive industry, as well as several government agencies, presently possess a virtual oligopoly over one such band in particular, which the auto industry claims it plans to use to allow cars to “talk to each other,” thus minimizing risk of accidents and getting us one step closer to the self-driving car. At least, that’s what it claims. In actuality, no such technology has been produced yet, and to all appearances, the industry is simply sitting on a valuable asset.
What’s more, they and their government allies have as yet refused to consider coming to the table to discuss how to put this untapped resource to good use, despite being asked to by no less an entity than the FCC itself. Yet, filings with the FCC from May and June of 2013, and May of 2014, by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) respectively, seem explicitly designed to preemptively refuse any attempt at cooperation with other interested groups.
Now, if your eyes have glazed over at this point, then I’ll put this in terms that should get any conservative’s blood boiling: Big Auto is flexing its political muscle, with the help of Obama administration bureaucrats, to keep a valuable resource out of the hands of innovators.
Fortunately, Congress has spotted this bit of corporate rent-seeking, and is taking action to stop it. A bill introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), for example, would force Big Auto et al to allow other technology to be tested that might be able to coexist with their own (again, completely hypothetical) technology. If an issue is so commonsensical that it can get the likes of Booker and Rubio on the same page, then you know there really is no justification for the status quo. A similar bipartisan coalition in the House has also formed, and hopefully, it should do its part to thoroughly wreck the automotive industry’s anti-progress position.