PK and its public interest colleagues are getting serious about spectrum policy today. We are making three filings at the FCC that are intended to ensure that when the FCC auctions off very valuable spectrum in the near future, that 1) the spectrum is made available to a wide variety of bidders and 2) whoever wins the auction provides broadband services that are open and non-discriminatory. The premise is simple – the public airwaves should only be allocated to parties that serve the public interest, and there is no better way to do so than to ensure that consumers have unfettered access to the broadband Internet, including the right to attach to attach non-harmful equipment.
A little background would be helpful here. As part of the nation's transition to digital television, TV broadcasters are returning to the government 60 Megahertz of spectrum in the 700 Megahertz band. Put most simply – this is a lot of spectrum in the part of the airwaves that most people regard as “beachfront property.” The 700 MHz band is uniquely capable of providing high-speed, mobile broadband service at affordable prices for consumers, and could become a strong competitor for wireline broadband access. The FCC has asked for comments both on “auction rules” (which determine who can bid and under what conditions) and “service rules” (which determine what kind of services winners can provide).
Our filings come as PK Advisory Board member Tim Wu and P2P phone service provider Skype have written in great detail about how closed and consumer unfriendly wireless networks are. Tim has written the definitive paper here, which discusses how wireless providers place limitations on the functionality of cellphones, prohibit them from being used on competitors' networks and place strong restrictions on what consumers can do with wireless broadband services. Skype has filed a petition with the FCC asking them to declare that wireless networks violate the “Carterphone” principle that requires network operators to permit consumers to attach any non-harmful device to their networks.
Here are brief explanations of the three filings:
The first asks the FCC to adopt auction rules that asks the FCC to offer the new spectrum at the wholesale level and “either prohibit wireline and large wireless incumbents from bidding,” or require them to bid “through structurally separate affiliates.”
The second asks the FCC to establish a service rule for broadband services operating in the 700 MHz band that “protects the consumer's right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider.
The third asks the FCC to designate at least half the spectrum to be licensed as “open access” spectrum that would allow third parties to interconnect with the broadband network to provide competitive broadband access services.
Our partners in this endeavor are Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, Media Access Project and New America Foundation. It has been a great collaboration, and certainly won't be the last on this topic. Our press release is here