Internet Group Argues Open Wireless Networks

    July 12, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

The tension must be palpable in the lobbies of Capitol Hill. Just as Verizon was pleading its closed network case to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Open Internet Coalition took a whole band of experts to House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Verizon was complaining about the so-called "Google Block," a swab of spectrum the FCC is considering setting aside in the upcoming 700 MHz wireless spectrum auction that would be sold with conditions of openness. Incumbent wireless providers are prepared to fight this tooth and nail, as consumer choice affects their bottom lines.

Or as Om Malik paraphrased Verizon’s viewpoint: Play fair in wireless auctions, as long as [Verizon] wins.

While Verizon had just one spokesperson making a thinly-veiled consumer-choice-is-bad-for-us argument, the OIC brought representatives of Columbia Law School, the Consumers Union, Skype and eBay, Free Press, and Public Knowledge.

Free Press’s Ben Scott called their appearance the "iPhone hearing" because AT&T’s non-subsidized two-year customer lock-in on a phone that can’t be used on any other network is a prime, recent, and resonant example of what the group aims to prevent with the opening of the wireless spectrum.

Their main point was that wireless carriers have been acting in anticompetitive ways for some time now, with all four major companies limiting which networks phones can be used, disallowing third-party applications, and implementing high fees for contract termination. Opening up spectrum to competition, they argue, would help catch the US with the rest of the world in terms of mobile phone innovation and device capability.

What they, along with Google and Frontline, are pushing for is the right for consumers to attach any device to the wireless network that doesn’t harm the network. Their argument is largely based on the FCC’s landmark 1968 Carterfone decision, that paved the way for things like answering machines, caller ID, and modems to be connected to AT&T’s network.

Back when Lily Tomlin made the satirical slogan "We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Phone Company." famous, opening up AT&T’s network was a major step forward in telephone innovation.

One snag, as noted by ArsTechnica is that it may be unrealistic for consumers to believe they can transfer their iPhone, for example, from AT&T’s GSM network to Verizon’s CDMA. However, generally all that takes is replacement of the SIM card, and there are already iPhone hacks in place, even thought the iPhone was designed for one network only.