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Competitive Field of Spectrum Bidders Benefits Everyone

As featured on Daily Kos 
By: Mike Montgomery

$12 billion.

That’s a lot of clams, even to the federal government. But that’s approximately how much the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be leaving on the table if they restrict some bidders during their upcoming spectrum incentive auctions, according to economists Robert J. Shapiro, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, and Coleman Bazelon. In their study published by Georgetown University, “The Economic Implications of Restricting Spectrum Purchases in the Incentive Auctions,” the trio warn that limiting just two participants — Verizon and AT&T — from taking part in spectrum auctions could “reduce auction revenues by about 40 percent.”

But wait, there’s more. The group also estimates that forcing certain providers to watch from the sidelines could raise consumer bills by 9 percent. In short, the federal government will be refusing money, and consumers will be paying more money for their wireless service.

If that sounds backward to you, you’re not alone.

The fact of the matter is providers big and small desperately need more spectrum to meet the customers’ demands. The unprecedented popularity of smartphones and tablets — and all the mobile data their owners use — are taxing networks. It’s a problem former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called “America’s looming spectrum crisis.” And unless more airwaves are freed up for wireless use soon, the word “looming” will no longer apply.

Congess’ bold incentive auctions — which, in a nutshell, will enable broadcasters to voluntarily sell their spectrum holdings in exchange for compensation — are aimed at helping alleviate this problem. On paper, the auctions could be a boon for both the broadcasters and the federal government, and wireless providers will be able to breathe a bit easier knowing their networks won’t suddenly seize up due to overcapacity. Call it a win-win-win.

Actually, call it four wins. The tech industry will also benefit, since more spectrum will mean more powerful and reliable wireless network capabilities. Bigger pipes, as they say, for bigger ideas.

But in order for us to rack up all these wins, the FCC must ensure the same rules apply to every bidder across the board. Restricting some carriers from being able to purchase the spectrum they need at auction won’t foster competition; if anything, it fosters the spirit of uncompetitive behavior.

Whatever framework the FCC decides upon should depend on two factors: getting the most bang for the spectrum buck, and perhaps more importantly, ensuring that those bidding are able to put newly acquired spectrum to use quickly and efficiently. After all, airwaves purchased and locked in the vault won’t help anybody.

That’s what makes the idea of restricting some providers from fully participating in the spectrum auctions about more than the potential loss of billions in much needed revenue for the federal government. In the end, consumers — the very ones the FCC are theoretically trying to help — will end up losing the most, either through higher prices or declining service quality. Those are two consequences consumers shouldn’t have to face.

View the article on the Daily Kos website here

Broadband + Education = Bright Future

There was some good news on the education front, courtesy of The White House:

“Today, President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to take the steps necessary to build high-speed digital connections to America’s schools and libraries, ensuring that 99 percent of American students can benefit from these advances in teaching and learning. He is further directing the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get this technology into classrooms, and into the hands of teachers trained on its advantages. And he is calling on businesses, states, districts, schools and communities to support his vision.”

The tl;dr read version: President Obama wants every student in America online. And he wants it to happen sooner rather than later.

Smart. Students today are better served by carrying a tablet rather than a backpack full of books, especially if they’re going to learn the skills they’ll need to play in the global economy and avoid future back pain.

But hitting the president’s mark will take more than words, especially with cities and school districts strapped for dough. Broadband networks don’t build themselves, which means continued private investment — and a regulatory environment that encourages it, both on the state and federal level — will be key.  Connecting 99% of students isn’t a moon shot, by any means, but it is a heavy lift. This means everyone, from government to business, needs to roll up their sleeves and work together to get it done.

Appallicious & the Age of Open Data

By: Mike Montgomery 

To quote the great philosopher, Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

As fast as life moves, technology moves even faster. It only took Facebook eight years to land a billion users. Twitter hit the five hundred million mark in just six years. Apple’s App Store launched in 2008 and is already closing in on 50 billion downloads.

Government, in contrast, does not move quickly. Especially on the local level, and especiallywhen it comes to embracing technology. Want to take a trip down memory lane? Catch a glimpse of what the Internet was like five years ago? Ten years ago? All you have to do is fire up a municipal website. Chances are you’ll come face-to-face with a dusty web design with information buried behind confusing menus, documents with inscrutable titles, and slideshows that move at the speed of continental drift.

As more and more people carry an Internet connection in their pocket wherever they go, many local governments are struggling to effectively serve their citizens. People don’t need a Hall of Records. They need information at their fingertips. They need a government that is more open, more available; a government that speaks their technological language.

Enter Appallicious, the brainchild of San Francisco innovator, Yo Yoshida. The former Founding Director of the nonprofit Under the Baobab Tree, Yoshida is a Government 2.0 evangelist, and his goal with Appallicious is to transform the way governments and citizens engage. Here’s how Jeremy Wallenberg, Director of External Affairs for San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation, described Yoshida’s work:

 Yo and his team have spent years developing a revolutionary technology utilizing open data that makes it easier for San Francisco residents to effectively engage with City Hall and elected representatives. The Appallicious platform is an invaluable tool helping San Franciscans find and navigate through city parks, playgrounds and museums.

One way Appallicious is already helping the City of San Francisco better connect with its citizens is the freeRec & Park app, developed in 2012, which utilizes open data to provide information on the city’s many parks. Or as Mashable described it in more detail:

 The app… helps people find and navigate thousands of parks, playgrounds, dog runs, museums, recreation centers, picnic tables, gardens, public restrooms and other points of interest and facilities that are maintained by the city of San Francisco.

The Appallicious Rec & Park app is just one example of the good that can come from the utilization of government data. The platform is also being used by SFArts and the San Francisco Department of Public Health to create useful tools for the public using open data—stay tuned for these new apps which are due out later this year.

The software created by Appallicious is easy to scale and gives governments the ability to build apps in a number of days rather than months—as long as there is open data available.

So what is open data?  According to the Open Knowledge Foundation, “Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone—subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.”  Trailblazing Government 2.0 advocate Alan Silberberg calls open data “Information that was previously only available via fax, paper or walking into an office that can now be found in a media form that can be used on websites or mobile phones.”

Phil Ginsburg, the visionary General Manager of San Francisco’s Recreation and ParkDepartment, says that, “Open data allows government to leverage the talents of app developers all for the benefit of those relying on our services and programs.”  Ginsburg reminds citizens that no personal information is shared with app developers.  The anonymous data is being utilized to serve residents in ways never before envisioned by government or private industry.  “It’s a win-win,” says Ginsburg.

In order to get the Rec & Park app off the ground, Appallicious worked with San Francisco city leaders like Ginsburg and San Francisco CIO Jay Nath to revise open data legislation, steps other cities will need to take in order to fully leverage the power of mobile apps and social networks to reach their citizens. According to Yoshida, every major city in America could have its own Rec & Park app within a year—all they have to do is embrace the age of open data.

Technology moves fast. Platforms like Appallicious can help governments keep up.

Center of Tech

Silicon Valley gets the majority of California’s tech ink, but according to an encouraging new report from the Progressive Policy Institute, the tech sector is benefiting the entire state as a whole.

According to PPI economist Michael Mandel, California has added jobs at a quicker pace than the rest of the country. Great news, to be sure, but when PPI breaks down the types of tech sector jobs and the areas of the state where employment is booming, things get interesting.

When drilled down to jobs centered around computers and mathematics, the Central Valley has seen the biggest increase in demand over the past year. For media and communications jobs, the Southern Border and Southern California are experiencing a boom. And in web development, it’s the Central Coast and Central Valley (again) that are leading the charge.

None of this means Silicon Valley is on the decline — far from it. But it does show that the tech sector continues to be a major force in the California economy from north to south and all the points in between, and it’s exciting to see another Washington, D.C. stakeholder take note.

Two Days With Touré

As a strong proponent of preserving the Internet as a platform for communication and commerce kept free from burdensome regulation, I geeked out when I knew I would be spending time with the guy I perceived as leading the charge against our virtuous, sacred Internet.

I refer, of course, to the head of the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”), Dr. Hamadoun Touré, who convened the World Conference on International Telecommunication (“WCIT”) late last year. I expected Dr. Touré to be the Internet’s equivalent of a goose farmer cultivating foie gras, force-feeding regulation down the Internet’s throat.

But for all the criticism heaped upon the ITU for its goals and process before, during and after the WCIT, I was surprised by a few of the notes Touré struck during his visit to Stanford University. During his keynote speech, Touré advocated for every single draconian proposed change to the world’s telecommunications laws, which was exactly what I expected from him. But what really stood out to me was his recognition of the need for updated communications infrastructure.

Touré spoke of all-IP (Internet protocol) networks springing up around the world and the need to embrace this technological advance as the next frontier in a hyper-connected world. He told the sold-out crowd that nations around the world are installing these IP networks with great success, spawning the creation of exciting micro-economies that didn’t previously exist. Touré implied that the U.S. has an opportunity to lap the rest of the world in terms of installing all-IP networks. Extrapolating on Touré’s statement, the U.S. must speed the transition in order to continue to stay ahead of the curve domestically while retaining our competitive edge globally.

Interestingly, while Dr. Touré seems to prescribe regulation as the solution to virtually every problem facing the Internet, his answer to the question of how to encourage faster and greater deployment of IP networks stands in stark contrast to that position. Oh the irony! He says the way to go is “light-touch regulation,” which limits the extent to which government should intervene with the management of the Internet ecosystem.

Obviously, I didn’t agree with everything Dr. Hamadoun Touré had to say over the course of the two-day Stanford symposium. However, I was thrilled to learn that the leader of the ITU is a vocal opponent of heavy regulations when it comes to transitioning the United States to the IP future we so desperately need.

Follow Mike Montgomery on Twitter:

There’s Something Crazy in the Air


That’s the best way to describe the current state of the wireless industry. Absolutely bananas.

Smartphones, tablets, LTE-enabled laptops, wirelessly connected cars… each day brings some new gadget, some new device tapping into the power of wireless networks. There are north of 300 hundred million people in the U.S., and according to Pew some 85% of them now own a cellphone. Of that group, 58% have upgraded to a smartphone. Do a little scribbling on the back of an envelope and you get something around 135 million people walking around with a wireless connection to the Internet in their pocket.

That’s a lot of people pushing out a lot of data. Billions of bytes, 24 hours a day. And all that traffic, all those bits and bytes and gigs, they all require spectrum to travel from points A to B, which is why wireless providers are currently on major shopping sprees. Investing billions to acquire more airwaves. Swapping frequencies in different markets. Working with the government to free up more spectrum in order to keep up with demand.

Earlier this month, T-Mobile merged with smaller provider MetroPCS. Early last week, satellite TV provider DISH Network pitched north of $25 billion to acquire wireless provider Sprint — a bid above what Japanese company SoftBank had also offered for the company. And those are just the two most recent moves. As mobile broadband continues to explode in popularity, there are going to be many more deals to come.

Call it a free market frenzy. A wireless lollapalooza, even. As the Federal Communications Commission continues to creep toward its proposed spectrum incentive auctions — which will, hopefully, free up a ton more spectrum for wireless use — providers aren’t waiting around. They can’t afford to. The wireless industry is one of our most vibrant sectors, and a big reason for that is competition. Even the biggest players are constantly forced to invest billions in order to meet the demands of their customers.

In such a highly competitive environment, the best thing the government can do is keep things from slowing down. That starts with ensuring the FCC auctions are open to every player willing to make the investment in — and quickly put to use — newly freed up airwaves. Hitting that mark will bring the government the most bang for its spectrum buck. It will also provide customers and the tech community with more robust networks. Ones that are able to keep up with innovations just around the corner.

The government can also help by encouraging wireless providers to work together in order to meet the challenge of ever increasing demand. As DISH’s flirting with Sprint shows, there’s no shortage of players hoping to get into the provider game. But even with the FCC’s auctions, it will take providers striking deals with each other to keep connections strong and the industry growing.

By focusing on smart oversight, regulators can protect consumers and maintain a vibrant wireless industry at the same time. That way, when it comes to the future of the industry,bananas will be just the beginning.

Follow Mike Montgomery on Twitter:

Coming up: Securing Cyberspace, a Stanford symposium

The Stanford Journal of Law hosts experts in business, law, and technology to delve into global cyberthreats and cybersecurity in its annual symposium.

“The Virtual Battlefield: Securing Cyberspace in a World Without Borders,” is the topic and it will kick off Thursday night with a keynote address by Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, who presided over December’s controversial World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).

Read the Full Article on Silicon Valley Business Journal

Next week’s Stanford cybersecurity symposium to include high-profile names

Articles on cybersecurity and hacking have been making the news increasingly frequently in the past few years, with high-profile victims including the U. S. Army, the Federal Reserve, Facebook and the New York Times.

An upcoming Stanford Journal of International Law symposium on cybersecurity, “The Virtual Battlefield: Securing Cyberspace in a World Without Borders,” has several presentations and panels with cybersecurity experts to discuss how international law may or may not address these issues.

Read the Full Article on TechWire

Navigating the Virtual Battlefield

For those who advocate for a free and open Internet governed by the multi-stakeholder approach, treaties proposed at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai were a potential disaster, giving countries greater power to limit the rights of their citizens. But the proposed treaties also highlighted another important issue, one that touches every nation regardless of its stance on free expression.

That issue is cybersecurity.

Read the full article from Mike Montgomery and James Wigginton on The Huffington Post

Utopia Parkway in LA | Ride-Sharing Revolution

I’m obsessed with the ride-share revolution sweeping the nation.

My interest was piqued last year during a phone call with Nick Allen, a member of my CALinnovates Advisory Board.  Nick told me that he was in the process of winding down his fund at Spring Ventures, which would allow him to focus his energy on a new business he founded with Sunil Paul.  The new venture, called SideCar, launched in San Francisco last June.  Four months later Allen and Paul raised a Series A round of $10 million from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Google Ventures, SV Angel, Mark Pincus, Lerer Ventures and a convoy of other prominent angels and VCs.  The A round allowed SideCar to expand well beyond their launch city of San Francisco.  SideCar now serves passengers in Seattle, Austin, DC, Philly and, now, thankfully, the City of Angels.  Competition abounds, mostly in the form of Lyft, another Bay Area-based purveyor of ride-shares.  You simply can’t miss Lyft’s cars driving around the city due to its clever marketing ploy of placing big, pink “carstaches” on the grill of each car in their fleet.

Read Mike Montgomery’s Full Article on TechZulu

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