Sometime back, on my regular blog, I wrote about a company called M2Z and their quest to get a free nationwide 20 MHz license. In exchange, they promised free (filtered) broadband (well, 384 MBPS) for everyone, a faster subscription tier (with opt out on the filtering), and a bunch of other things — notably a commitment to net neutrality, a general commitment to wholesale, and a flavor of open device attachment/wireless Carterfone.
My employer, Media Access Project and the folks here at Public Knowledge filed some lukewarm support back when the FCC put the M2Z Application on public notice. Then we, along with just about everyone else, went off and focused on 700MHz. Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking and the FCC is now running into a deadline to make a decision. It appears likely that the FCC will do the safe, conventional thing and vote to deny the M2Z Application. At the same time, it will likely vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to set service rules and begin the process of auctioning the spectrum.
However, one of the happy spinoffs of the 700 MHz auction debate is that we have a lot more folks focused on spectrum policy. This includes the Public Interest Spectrum Coalition,* which a week ago actually sat down and started looking at this in a real way and in light of everything we did and did not win in the 700 MHz proceeding. Yesterday, at the proverbial last minute, we filed these comments. To summarize real fast:
1) We think the FCC could take more time to look at this and make a well reasoned decision based on broader public debate in the wake of the 700 MHz Auction, rather than rushing into things;
2) We would not grant the Application as written. The mandatory filtering raises serious First Amendment and statutory concerns. The proposed language on wholesale, network neutrality, and device attachment rules are way too weak. Especially given the record developed for these concepts in the 700 MHz proceeding, M2Z needs to do a lot better on making these conditions real rather than just aspirational concepts. We think they can, but they ain't there yet by a long-shot.
3) OTOH, if you conditioned it right, grant of the M2Z Application would serve the public interest.
4) If you deny the M2Z application and decide to go to auction, the M2Z proposal should be the minimum for public service rules. This is a splendid opportunity to actually implement the PISC Principles for Wireless Competition, particularly the PISC wholesale open access proposal.
But most importantly, the FCC should think about this for UNLICENSED SPECTRUM ACCESS (or non-exclusive licensing on the model of the 3650-3700 MHz Band). After all, opening the band on an unlicensed basis will solve all the messiness and delay of having creating auction rules and running an auction. Existing chip sets can already transmit and receive on the 2.155-2.175 GHz band (the AWS-3 Band). Right now, manufacturers suppress that ability to comply with the FCC's rules for certifying unlicensed devices. But if the FCC opened the band to unlicensed and set technical rules for operation, these manufacturers could enable their chipsets with a software download. Rather than wait for a licensee to develop and deploy new equipment, we could leverage the already existing infrastructure. And, while the band is not super great on its own, it can work in conjunction with the existing 2.4 GHz and the 900 MHz band to provide two new non-overlapping wifi channels. That's a nice little capacity add.
Nor is PISC the only 700 MHz survivor thinking along these lines. Google also dropped a last minute filing echoing similar suggestions. i.e., that the band presents a great opportunity to expand on the open spectrum principles in the 700 MHz auction or expand the availability of spectrum via unlicensed. (And before anyone asks, I called Google to tell them what we were doing, not the other way around, although they had already been thinking about this independently. Nothing like a deadline to stimulate thought and collective action.)
It's hard to say where we end up at this point. The first thing is for the Commission to give this more time (half the relevant folks at the FCC have been on vacation while this got debated). But if we do go to a notice of proposed rulemaking, I hope the FCC will give open spectrum a good hard look — either open via mandatory wholesale or open via unlicensed/nonexclusive licensing. After all, the whole reason this band is sitting here is because no one could figure out how to make it work as part of the AWS auction. Twenty MHz isn't much, but I can think of lots better uses than either letting it sit there or auctioning it off to the incumbents under the usual “flexible, market based” rules.
*The Public Interest Spectrum Coalition is, at the moment: The Champaign Urbana Wireless Network Foundation (CUWIN), Consumers Union (CU), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), Free Press (FP), EDUCAUSE, Media Access Project (MAP), National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), New America Foundation (NAF), Public Knowledge (PK), and US PIRG.