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FCC Gets Earful About Wireless Net Neutrality

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The Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) was bombarded today pleas to keep a tight reign on the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction to prevent phone and cable companies from expanding their grip on Internet access in the wireless realm.

The 700MHz spectrum is considered to be perfect for wireless broadband services, and, like with television signals, is capable of penetrating walls. Using that spectrum for broadband, according to supporters, would greatly expand Internet access in the US, which is currently not in the top ten on world broadband penetration lists.

That’s because, they would argue, the telecommunications industry has self-regulated broadband growth to increase profits.

The FCC received letters from Presidential hopeful John Edwards, FreePress’ SaveTheInternet.com coalition, MoveOn.org, spearheaded by Lawrence Lessig, Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society, and supported by 250,000 signatories. 

Lessig has been quite active lately, also petitioning the television networks to make the Presidential debates open for reuse by the public. So far, CNN has agreed.

Lessig’s new cause is keeping this particular slice of spectrum open to those who could compete with companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, all with deep pockets and a strong interest in controlling this bit of the airwaves.

The plea to the FCC asks, in a nutshell, to ensure national high-speed wireless Internet with open and neutral networks and a competitive marketplace. The letter asks the FCC to:

1.    Ensure new competition. "Big phone and cable companies who have spent years laying wires in the ground have every incentive to stifle the growth of a competitive high-speed wireless market."

2.    Ensure open networks (Wireless Net Neutrality). The FCC should guard against auction winners playing "gatekeeper" over which websites customers can access – currently in practice with mobile phones.

3.    Not allow auction winner to "blacklist" new technology from entering the market, so consumers can attach any safe device to their own device – much the same way telephone companies were required to let customers attach answering machines to their landlines (modems, too, later).

4.    Make at least half of the auctioned airwaves licensed on an "open access" basis, ensuring competitors could enter the market for a fair market rate.

 “We need more competition and innovation, not more of the same,” said Michael Kieschnick, president of Working Assets Wireless, which has offered to buy out cell phone contracts from customers angry with AT&T and Verizon.

“America will continue to fall behind the rest of the world as long as we let these network giants dictate the terms of access for the majority of Americans.”

Presidential candidate John Edwards seems to agree. In his own letter to the FCC, Edwards wrote:

By setting bid and service rules that unleash the potential of smaller new entrants, you can transform information opportunity for people across America….. As much as half of the spectrum should be set aside for wholesalers who can lease access to smaller start-ups, which has the potential to improve service to rural and underserved areas.

Additionally, anyone winning rights to this valuable public resource should be required not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device to be attached to their service.

Edwards also said bidding should be anonymous to avoid collusion and retaliatory bids.    

FCC Gets Earful About Wireless Net Neutrality
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  • Gregory Rose

    This is so much nonsense. Lessig has had almost nothing to do with organising popular input on this issue. Harold Feld of the Media Access Project, Michael Calabrese of New America Foundation, and Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge have been the main organizers around this issue. The press consistently misidentifies the people who are really making headway for the progressive moment on this sort of issue.