Today editorial notes that the S.C. Senate would make it harder for South Carolina to capitalize on its wireless broadband (WiMax) opportunity:
Senate puts politics ahead of science
S.C. House members will decide this week whether they can live with the Senate's byzantine proposal for thrusting South Carolina to the global forefront of wireless broadband service. In the Senate's hands, the House's sensible proposal to repurpose the state's 67 S.C. Educational Television licenses toward throwing up a wireless cloud over the state has become needlessly complex.
But the House is in a bind on fixing this problem. Senate leaders seem dug in on the issue, and legislative stalemate this year could eventually cause the loss of those licenses.
Some background: Wireless broadband could constitute a quantum leap past the current state of the art on broadband: high-speed cable and digital subscriber phone lines, the technologies by which many South Carolinians get high-speed Internet.
Using the part of the electromagnetic spectrum devoted to the S.C. Educational Television system, wireless broadband - WiMax, as techies dub it - could cover the entire state. The hundreds of broadcast towers needed to put up this statewide wireless cloud are already in place.
Such a system - into which individual, corporate and governmental users could tap - becomes possible with the impending digitization of the 67 S.C. ETV channels. The digital conversion would increase the channels' capacity dramatically - to about 90 percent more than S.C. ETV needs to continue regular broadcast service. The state-owned WiMax, whose capacity could far exceed that of WiFi and cellular-based wireless Internet access, would be built upon that spectrum space.
The House's idea for capitalizing on this wireless broadband potential was to empower the state's chief information officer and S.C. ETV to work with the Federal Communications Commission to make wireless broadband happen in South Carolina. But the chief information officer, for reasons never adequately explained, lost his job in March. And Senate leaders have dressed down S.C. ETV leaders for failing to show proper obeisance to legislative authority on this issue.
So after the House passed its bill in March, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee headed by Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, inserted two levels of authority into the WiMax approval stream. The first would be a legislatively appointed ad hoc S.C. Educational Broadband Service Commission to screen proposals from private companies. Once that body recommends wireless broadband proposals, the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee would further evaluate WiMax proposals for further review by the S.C. Budget and Control Board. Only then would S.C. ETV negotiate with the FCC to carry out the legislative will.
Rankin deems this laborious procedure necessary because - he says - there are too many unanswered questions about wireless broadband. The legislation, he said, is an attempt get answers before S.C. leaders decide upon a course of action.
If it takes too long for legislators to fully understand the potential of WiMax, however, the opportunity to convert the licenses to the economic benefit of South Carolina could be lost. Some cynics see the Senate legislation as a back-door way to kill off wireless broadband, to the enduring profitability of the telecom industry. This may be unfair. But there is no question that under the Senate's conception, science would take a back seat to politics.
The Senate's opposition to rapid S.C. entry into the world of WiMax is the harsh political reality with which the House will have to deal this week. To say that House leaders will have to summon all the wisdom at their disposal to salvage the legislation and advance the wireless broadband cause is, if anything, an understatement.