FCC May Force Open Wireless Spectrum

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What’s this? Is FCC Chairman Kevin Martin actually about to acknowledge that incumbent phone companies may have too tight a grip on their market and discourage real innovation? Maybe his head’s not as thick as we thought.

The upcoming 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction has been a pretty contentious arena. AT&T and other companies want the spectrum, previously used for broadcast television, and are willing to pay a premium for it, especially because of what it could do for wireless broadband.

Incumbent providers have been against setting aside parts of it for public use, allowing outside bidders, or tightening of the regulations placed on them. Google and other companies, and high profile politicians like Sen. John Kerry have urged the FCC not to let incumbents "hoard" the airwaves.

Martin, who has been more willing to listen to incumbents than the public in the past about Net Neutrality, showed promise today announcing a proposal that would require wireless providers, or whomever wins the auction, to provide a "truly open broadband network" that allows customers to "use any wireless device and download any mobile broadband application, with no restrictions."

The new rules wouldn’t affect other networks, but would add pressure to do the same. Martin seemed to regret that wireless providers had locked subscribers into certain phones – like with Apple’s iPhone – and some had required manufacturers to strip WiFi capabilities to ensure customers had to use their own (expensive) Internet access.

He also acknowledged that mobile phone innovations were far behind other countries because of this.

Making rules against this type of market manipulation, "sends an important message," he said.  

Google, who filed a brief urging these types of restriction, seemed pleased with the proposal, expected to be outlined tomorrow. Some have suggested Google bid in the auction, which the company hasn’t ruled out, according to Google’s Richard Whitt:

While we remain interested in the possibility of participating in the auction, it’s clear that the incumbent carriers have built-in advantages that will prove difficult to overcome (particularly the economic and operational barriers to entry for a company like ours, and the relatively greater value and usefulness that spectrum brings to existing carriers).



FCC May Force Open Wireless Spectrum
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