“Technology Experience Center” to give FCC personnel and select visitors hands-on experience with the latest in communications technology.

Last November we told you about the FCC’s request for donations of technical communications devices to its planned Technology Experience Center (TEC), described as an on-site lab that will provide hands-on experience with the latest in communications technology.

The doors of the TEC are now open. Moreover, the FCC has announced there will be themes for each coming month. (If nothing else, that will keep the press releases coming.) This month, July, is about “Innovation & Spectrum.” Future months will feature education (August), public safety (September), healthcare (October), small business (November), and energy (December). The FCC has not said so, but we’re willing to guess rural broadband and disability-related issues are somewhere on the list for next year.

We are all in favor of regulators keeping abreast of new technology. But we have a couple of concerns. For one, the TEC appears not to be open to the public, but rather to be limited to FCC staff and “select visitors from the community.” We’d like to play, too. How do we get an invitation?

Opening-day exhibits are provided by these companies: Comcast, DirecTV, GENBAND, Grooveshark, Globalstar, HTC, iBiquity, LexisNexis, LG Electronics, Livio Radio, Microsoft, Motorola, Open Mobile Video Coalition, Panasonic, Research in Motion, Samsung, Sonos, Sony, and Verizon Wireless.

And that’s another concern.

This initial list seems disproportionately tilted to giants in their fields. No doubt the large companies generate some share of technological innovation. But we were hoping the FCC would use the new TEC at least in part to present the work of the smaller, innovating entrepreneurs who come up with many of the most exciting ideas in technology (and some of whom are our clients). After all, Comcast and Verizon have no trouble reaching the investors and partners they want, with or without the FCC.  But the companies that might have used the boost from a TEC appearance to fuel the spread of genuinely new ideas appear to have been left out — making it all the more likely they will eventually succumb to being bought by one of the giants.

One more thing. The FCC’s announcement includes some serious disclaimers: donation of items to the TEC is “not contingent on and does not imply any expected benefit to the donor”, and acceptance of any item by the FCC “does not constitute endorsement” of the item by the FCC. 

The FCC can disclaim all it wants, but we think donors expect to realize some benefit from their largess.  After all, their brainchildren are being presented center stage to an elite corps of Very Important Decisionmakers.  Isn’t the opportunity to step out of the competitive crowd and into that spotlight a benefit in itself?  Not to mention the derivative benefits that might flow from positive reception by that influential audience.  If the FCC is favorably impressed by a piece of gear, we figure it’s less likely to adopt rules that disfavor that gear; it might even come up with rules that foster the gear.  Sounds like a benefit to us.

And as to whether or not acceptance into the TEC constitutes an “endorsement”:  unless the FCC accepts anything and everything that happens to be submitted, it must be making threshold determinations.  We’d be surprised, for example, if the FCC accepted the wind-powered Time Machine we’ve been working on (even if we can get that pesky broadband component working).  So any item that makes the cut probably has something going for it in the eyes of somebody at the FCC.  That may not rise to the level of a formal endorsement, but the FCC can’t really believe that getting one’s whizbang gizmo in the door at the TEC won’t be perceived as some measure of approbation.

Once we get our Time Machine working, we’d be happy to retrieve the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) or maybe Bill Gates and Paul Allen, back from the 1970s, when they were still tweaking their then-cutting-edge ideas that have since become ho-hum mainstream. Until then, though, we think the FCC should be careful not to ignore the current-day counterparts of such pathfinders, in order to try to get an early handle on what will be ho-hum mainstream 30 years from now.