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Bandwidth and Botnets: Communications Policy Challenges for Obama

The FCC is Devising Spectrum Auctions, and Obama May Issue a Cybersecurity Executive Order
November 9, 2012

TV broadcasters and the military have lots of prime spectrum, and the battle over how any of it gets redistributed to wireless companies to feed the data demands of smartphone and tablet owners will be a key part of the communications policy landscape in the second term of the Obama administration. 

So too is the possibility that President Obama will sign an executive order for his agencies to make sure the sectors they regulate–especially energy and communications companies–are better protected against cyber threats, including potentially disastrous attacks by botnets, or gangs of remotely controlled infected computers.

On the first point, the U.S. Federal Communications Commision has started designing new auctions that would compensate broadcasters that are willing to hand over their licenses, but broadcasters are reluctant to hand any spectrum over. The New York Times today blogged on this topic, and also the lawsuits the commission faces over its requirements that carriers support roaming and treat everybody’s bits equally – a concept known as “net neutrality.”

On the cyberthreat landscape, I spoke yesterday with Melissa Hathaway, who served briefly as the White House cyberczar at the beginning of Obama’s first term and is now a consultant.  She says that in recent years some 80 bills in some way touched on cybersecurity, but none became law.  Two months ago, reports surfaced that Obama would issue an executive order aimed at strengthening cyber protections of critical infrastructure.  A draft leaked out; it highlighted the need to protect the energy and communications sectors and talked vaguely about creating an “information exchange framework” so that private companies and government agencies could learn about emerging threats more rapidly. It’s not clear what’s being considered today, but Hathaway predicted President Obama would sign an executive order before the year is out.

If any order translates into new regulations, it could mean new headaches for all sectors that have to deal both with increasing cyber threats and with increasing efforts by policymakers to somehow stay on top of those threats.

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