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FCC’s Adelstein Takes Up Open Spectrum Cause

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One down, four to go. That’s the count supporters of open airwaves and neutral networks are holding up as Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein publicly voices his support for requiring winners of the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction to keep a chunk of it open to competition.

This slice of the airwaves is currently used by television networks, but will come available again in 2009 as they switch from analog to digital signals.

Open-airwaves supporters like Google, SaveTheInternet.com, MoveOn.org, and some high profile politicians like Senator John Kerry and former running mate John Edwards, say that the spectrum is ideal for wireless broadband access, especially because of its ability to travel just about anywhere.

Telecom and cable incumbents like AT&T and Verizon have their eyes set hard on the spectrum and oppose regulation requiring them to share or embrace competition. Some worry the massive companies will pool their resources just to close others out.

Though many looked to Google, or another deep-pocketed friend of neutrality and open airwaves, Google has stated the company has no interest in bidding on the spectrum.

"This valuable slice of airwaves could beam cheap, high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace, and home in America," writes Tim Karr of FreePress."

It could deliver essential wireless services to communities that have been overlooked by the cable and phone incumbents, which control high-speed Internet access for more than 96 percent of residential American users."

The FCC has five commissioners, three of whom are Bush appointees who only like regulation when it suits them – especially when it comes to regulating speech on subscription-based networks – including Chairman Kevin Martin, whom we’ll have to put up with until 2011.

The remaining two in the past have been affiliated with Democrats, only one of which so far has voiced his support for open airwaves, leaving a rather long (and difficult) row to hoe for open-wireless spectrum advocates.

This concept may be harder for the general public to understand than Net Neutrality initially was, and thus far the movement has garnered 250,000 supporters – a respectable number still a fraction of the million plus that signed on to Net Neutrality concerns.

This Commission (the one responsible for all the Janet Jackson Nipplegate hysteria) has historically been belatedly in favor of Net Neutrality, requiring AT&T to concede to neutral network principles before it allowed the telecom giant to merge with BellSouth – concessions which Chairman Martin was very unhappy about, and which he was quick to note were unenforceable.

Nonetheless, Adelstein’s support is a 20 percent chink in the armor of the group, bolstering the hopes of those looking to prevent incumbents from closing off the system, slicing it up amongst themselves, dividing into nice extraordinarily monetizable chunks.

"We need to identify meaningful spectrum on which to establish an open-access environment," Adelstein told Reuters. "This will open these key airwaves to badly needed competition."

Strangely, the opposition argues the opposite will happen if the FCC requires the spectrum remains open, falling back on their old standby that regulation stifles the free market. They have little to say, however, about how exactly preventing new competition bolsters new competition, or this so-called "free market" they keep talking about.

Is this the same free market that gave incumbents 96 percent of the broadband market at 40 times bandwidth costs for access and 7000 percent SMS markups?

A better question, are these the same incumbents that agreed to offer much cheaper broadband access but are intent on not telling anybody about it?

Adam Green, in charge of Civic Action for MoveOn.org is more optimistic about this oligarchy Commission than I am, so lets end this editorial with what he has to say:

Open networks will pave the way for a competitive national wireless market, wireless Net Neutrality, and wireless right-to-attach (the equivalent of a phone jack for cell phones and wireless devices, so that innovative devices can get to the market).

The public airwaves are our airwaves – they need to be used for the public good, and that means open networks with lots of competition. Verizon/AT&T/Comcast want to buy these airwaves and essentially sit on them — so that wireless Internet does not compete with phone and cable-based Internet.  

FCC’s Adelstein Takes Up Open Spectrum Cause
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