Foundational Fairness - New Blog Post by UTC CEO & President Joy Ditto

By Atossa Shafaie posted 07-06-2018 12:49



Foundational Fairness

My oldest daughter, Emma, is attending her first “away camp” this week. It’s going surprisingly well given the texts and pictures we’ve seen from the chaperones. I admit to having some mixed feelings – I miss Emma being home, but at the same time I am so excited for her to have this incredible experience and meet some potentially lifelong friends. Having just completed fourth grade, she is also still learning about how to treat others in a group dynamic (and how to stand up for herself when others may not be treating her well) – this camp is perfect for that type of learning given its mission and the input of older counselors to help create these foundational notions of fairness. But, I do struggle as a parent with the fact that we teach fairness and treating others with fairness and respect when life in the working world is often unfair, and sometimes patently so.

One of the most egregious examples of this that I have come across in my 25 years living and working “inside-the-beltway” in D.C. (a place that is, to put it mildly, not typically swayed by arguments of fairness in the first place) is the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) spectrum policy. The idea that one government regulatory agency run largely by unelected bureaucrats could tip the scales so heavily in favor of certain constituencies seems almost undemocratic – and almost unimaginable. And yet, this highly unfair situation is the reality. A naturally occurring phenomenon, spectrum is required to operate any wireless device or network. Electric, gas and water utilities have built out their own “private” communications networks in order to ensure highly reliable, safe and secure service, and therefore need highly reliable spectrum to underpin the wireless portion of those networks.

Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC is required to manage spectrum in the public interest. In the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Congress modified the way spectrum had previously been managed by authorizing the FCC to award spectrum ownership through auction. This was thought, at the time, to be a way to maximize spectrum use and bring in needed revenue to the federal government. Importantly, the 1997 law exempted utilities from competitive bidding of spectrum, given the importance of utility services to the country. Despite these congressional actions, the FCC still treats utilities as any other commercial entity when it comes to spectrum acquisition. As a result, utilities often find themselves unable to compete with other huge, multinational enterprises for interference-free spectrum. Instead, many are forced to purchase spectrum in the secondary market or to make due with spectrum bands that aren’t optimal, but that have the benefit of being less desirable to commercial carriers and others and are, therefore, less subject to harmful interference.


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