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CHAPTER XI - Conclusion

On many dimensions, wireless and wired broadband are converging, but there are fundamental reasons why they are not considered perfect substitutes. Many consumers, however, are increasingly shifting from wired to wireless networks for an increasing range of services. This presents a host of issues for effective regulatory policy.

The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Spectrum Policy (AIRS) met in November 2013 to discuss Spectrum Policy for the Wired Network. Specifically, the roundtable of experts discussed how spectrum policy can help bring broadband access to rural Americans, improve public services, and promote innovation through competition. The materials discussed above summarize the discussions and offer modest proposals aimed at finding workable, practical solutions to these nuanced issues.

From the definitional challenges (the reality of hybrid, rather than purely distinct, wired and wireless networks), to the problems confronting different networks (different capacity and coverage constraints, different infrastructure and spectrum costs, different network characteristics leading to differing ability to confront particular challenges, among others) it was clear from the discussion that the issues created by wired/wireless competition and substitution are significant. Many of these center on spectrum as a substitute for wires as the medium of transmission in wireless networks.

Nevertheless, the group was able generally to identify several areas of focus and several recommendations for the most fruitful policy results. Among these were:

  1. The creation of a “Rural Broadband Challenge” competition to incentivize providers to figure out how to offer affordable, reliable wireless service in sparsely populated rural areas.
  2. Policy attention directed toward ensuring that usage-based pricing and usage cap solutions to wireless capacity problems don’t over-deter the use of networks for educational and healthcare purposes.
  3. The setting aside of some capacity for time-limited, project-specific uses to encourage experimentation and innovation.
  4. Deregulation (possibly with transparency requirements) for the Internet of Things.
  5. Deregulation of, as well as a focus on innovation and redefinition around, wireless emergency services.
  6. Policies to encourage wired networks to compete more with wireless networks, including through more deregulation at both the local and federal levels, as well as policies to facilitate use of unlicensed spectrum.

Appropriate to such a gathering, the group raised as many questions as answers. But this discussion should serve as a valuable guide for policymakers and others interested in facilitating the ongoing expansion in the use of wireless networks and the consumer benefits that deeper competition between wired and wireless can provide.

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