Our affluence is about to affect our effluents again. Unlike environmental pollution – which many people think don’t come in daily contact with and assume, whatever it is, it’s someone else’s problem – this time our overindulgence is as close as the technology many of us hold in our hands: the smart phone.

I’m seeing more – and more urgent – technical stories about our “vanishing” bandwidth and – now this will surprise you – our government’s failure to do anything about it! Designation of who can – and therefore who can’t – have commercial access to the airwaves that carry all electronic communication and how much of the frequency bandwidth can be accessed rests solely with the Federal Communications Commission and its minions. From which the current silence is deafening.

If the concept of “bandwidth” escapes you, try this. You are high up in the stadium seats at the 50 yard line, looking down on an empty football field. Now, someone lays a smartphone on one goal line, then puts a computer next to it, then a radio, then a TV set, then another smart phone, computer, radio, TV set and on and on to the other goal line. You fill all the space from one end to the other. Then someone comes along with a radically new technology in a box and looks for a place to set it down between the end zones. Can’t be done. No room.

That’s somewhat how bandwidth works. Except it’s an electronic spectrum. Like the football field, it has measurements along the way called “frequencies.” Somewhat like the yard markers on the gridiron. With the explosion of smar tphones, computers, digital television and all the other gadgets we take for granted, we are about to run out of room. Technology is available to solve the problem. But – ah, government.

The common sense and most preferred solution is to further divide the frequencies into smaller slices like cutting smaller pieces of pie to serve more unexpected visitors. Some smart folks have already come up with a process. But – – – – –

The Department of Commerce Economics and Statistic Administration (ESA) – using Census Bureau research – claims seven of every 10 households have broadband service. And we’re running out of room. What do we do when the other 30% of households that’ll eventually want to get on? A lot of those households are in rural parts of our Northwest neighborhoods. What about them?

In just the period 2009-2010, the number of new users of broadband went from 64% to 68%. From 2003 to 2010, the number of American homes with computers increased from 62% to 77%.

Note that we’re only talking personal computers here. No mention of smart phones, the increasing number of TV sets, commercial, government or military use of broadband – just computers. No one has any idea what the precise increase in smart phones has been but we know it exploded.

How much more space we have depends on who does the measuring or the counting or however it’s done. But all knowledgeable sources – all of them – agree on one thing: there ain’t much room left!

Those of you who are regular visitors to SECOND THOUGHTS may think this is just another of my frequent rants about failures of the federal government, both administratively and politically. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Maybe one of these days, when you want to add some electronic whizbang to your current collection of whizbangs – and the installer company says it can’t because the feds have stopped adding new whizbangs to the bandwidth – maybe you’ll think back. Maybe.

We could find ourselves rationing electronic access. We’re being warned that could happen. Soon. National security needs may trump an updated computer or smart phone you’ve had your eye on. Remember those unmanned drones taking out the Taliban one by one? Yep. Broadband. That electronic link for your car may be refused. Your new small business can’t have computer links to the world because there is no space left. With a football field, you want a defined distance. With broadband you don’t. You have the government instead. Isn’t that comforting?

Your friends at the FCC – serving at the pleasure of Congress and the President – are doing what exactly to head off another government crisis? They’ve stepped up the action to take care of this – how? The FCC will lose how much funding next fiscal year? And the next? And the next?

This is just one of hundreds of issues that need urgent federal attention. Are they getting it? Are you getting it?

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