2012 promises to be a busy year for lawmakers and regulators as they continue to shape and debate a growing array of issues in the arena of technology policy. From efforts to furnish wireless providers with the capacity they need to handle an explosion of mobile data traffic to cybersecurity and intellectual property, this year figures to be a noisy year in Washington. But apart from the ever-raucous debates, how much will these issues actually advance and how will they affect IT professionals? To help separate heat from light, here is a look at the issues that can be expected to animate the technology policy debates of 2012.
1. Spectrum for Wireless Providers
The proliferation of smartphones and tablet computers has meant that cellular networks are an increasingly popular on-ramp to the Internet. As mobile data usage has ballooned, wireless providers have been pressing hard for the government to free up spectrum that could boost the capacity in their networks. While there is general agreement that more spectrum is needed, the question of how to free up swaths of the airwaves for mobile broadband remains controversial.
The Federal Communications Commission has asked Congress for the authority to conduct so-called incentive auctions, whereby television broadcasters would forfeit their spectrum licenses to be sold at auction, and receive a cut of the proceeds. Since the proposal first emerged, the primary trade group representing broadcasters in Washington has been suspicious, saying that it does not object to auctions that are truly voluntary, but that it would oppose any measure that would pressure its members to abandon their licenses or affect their signal transmissions.
"Our position is the same," said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president at the National Association of Broadcasters. "We support the bill that came out of the House subcommittee chaired by Greg Walden (R-Ore.). That bill states that the FCC has to make 'all reasonable efforts' to protect broadcasters that stay [on the air] against interference and allows TV stations to do mobile DTV."
But Walden's bill drew fire from Democratic members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who objected to the $3 billion that would be allocated to broadcasters to relocate their spectrum, among several other provisions, including the legislation's proposal for building an interoperable nationwide communications network for first responders.
Apart from the standalone legislation, House and Senate lawmakers had been working toward an agreement to include spectrum provisions in either a year-end spending bill or legislation to extend cuts to the payroll tax, but those talks broke down in December. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.V.), a leading advocate for spectrum reform, blamed House Republicans, whom he said had "unilaterally stopped negotiating with us on spectrum." Three days later, when lawmakers reached a deal to keep the government funded, Rockefeller again expressed disappointment that spectrum was not a part of the package, but signaled that he would make a spectrum bill a top priority in 2012.
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