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Bush and Kerry scrap over wireless broadband

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Kerry on broadband:

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has also noted the election potential of broadband - much as the Clinton/Gore team did with the wired Internet in 1996. Kerry has referred to broad-band wireless in several speeches, claiming the growth of such new industries will spur economic growth while opening up Internet access even to rural populations.

Last Friday, Kerry was one signatory to a letter sent to the president criticising his broadband policy. As well as calling on Congress to ban taxes on wired or wireless broadband access, Bush committed to reducing the regulatory burden to encourage investment in wireless services, and to in-crease access to federal land for towers and to federal spectrum. "Simply stating a goal is not enough. Without aggressive and concrete action, we are concerned that the goal will not be met," the senators wrote. "The administration has not only undermined existing programs, it has not offered any positive alternatives. For example, we have supported tax credits for broadband deployment, but you have not included any comparable proposal in any of your budgets or tax-cut packages. Nor have you exercised vocal leadership on regulatory, tax or other issues relating to broadband."

As part of his presidential manifesto, Kerry says that "widespread, high speed broadband access could increase our national GDP by as much as $500bn annually by 2006", and he believes that wireless will be vital in this, and that more spectrum will be made available for 3G and other networks.

Kerry has other reasons to favour wireless expansion, since his largest campaign contributor is a telecoms lobbyist representing the CTIA, the industry association of wireless operators. According to research by the Center for Public Integrity and its report The Buying of the President 2004, Boston-based law and lobbying firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo has contributed $187,000 to various Kerry races, including his current presidential campaign, and Kerry's brother works there. Mintz, Levin lobbies on behalf of AT&T Wireless, XO and the CTIA and the Center claims this affects Kerry's policy on telecoms- related issues.

He and his wife also have substantial holdings in telecoms companies, estimated to be worth between $17.6m and $47.1m. Based on past behaviour, Kerry could be expected to favour the established cellular industry in terms of presidential policy on spectrum and to back acceleration of the spectrum auctioning process begun in 1994.

Whether the motivation is vote winning, keeping contributors sweet or raising federal funds through spectrum auctions, the net result is likely to be a rejuvenation of US wireless policy, which will be essential to the country's retaining its competitiveness. Long saddled with a backward broadband wireless infrastructure, the US could see the pragmatic requirements of a presidential race that is likely to be close fought providing a boost whose effects are felt long after November 2004.

Meanwhile, former FCC chairman Reed Hundt told a Senate Committee that broadband could be significantly advanced with-out major rewrites of telecoms regulations, simply by re-examining the digital television signal threshold figures that en-able television stations to hang on to UHF spectrum for analogue broadcast.

He also said Congress should ask the FCC to look at secondary use of broadcast spectrum in areas where it is underused and to issue an order asking that unlicensed devices be allowed to operate in television broadcast spectrum at locations and times when the spectrum isn't being used.

The FCC currently has an inquiry into secondary use in 700MHz bands and has high hopes of cognitive radios to stimulate unlicensed use of licensed bands, since these radios can intelligently avoid interfering with the incumbent's traffic. Hundt is on the board of several wireless companies, including Wi-Fi firm Pronto, and backs OFDM and beam forming technologies as alternatives to 3G for more rapidly expanding broadband services.

© Copyright 2004 Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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