Verizon has surrounded the Federal courthouse in Washington with that whole network-tech gang from the TV commercials. The helicopters, the guys with equipment, the whole lot of them took off for Pennsylvania Avenue with one purpose in mind – to make sure consumers don't get the best use from their own cell phones.
When Verizon filed papers at the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit on Sept. 10 challenging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order for the 700 MHz spectrum auction, the company put into play the only provisions of the order that could benefit consumers and innovators.
Their phalanx surrounding the building is an apt metaphor for Verizon's continued wish to keep their customers from wandering off to other cellular carriers or to services that Verizon doesn't offer.
The FCC last summer set out the rules for what could be the last and best spectrum auction for a long time. A coalition of public-interest groups (including Public Knowledge), along with Google, Skype, a group of wireless innovators and others, suggested to the FCC that it do something more worthwhile with this last little slice than simply let the big current cellular companies get bigger.
We wanted the Commission to use this slice of spectrum to create more competition in wireless Internet services for the benefit of consumers by allowing smaller companies which couldn't afford to bid billions for spectrum to have a shot. So we proposed that whoever wins the auction be required to sell it at wholesale to the smaller, generally innovative companies. Wholesale has been, and remains, a staple type of business in the telecom world, so this wasn't totally radical.
We also asked that when consumers be given the advantages to use any “always on” wireless service, like GPS; be able to run any application, like a music download service; and use any device on any network. In addition, we wanted consumers to be able to take their phones with them when moving from one carrier to another, and to use any application they wanted. Verizon customers, for example, wouldn't get stuck with the VCAST music service Verizon provides. They could use iTunes, or any other.
But Verizon doesn't want that. It wants the customers to stay captive. It wants innovation to be limited. So it rushes to court, not even waiting for the reconsideration cycle to play out at the FCC, in an attempt to make sure that Verizon customers stay with the network.
Overall, the order was not that consumer-friendly. There was no wholesale requirement, which could have changed the landscape of cellular. There was only the common-sense policy that has been in effect for the wired side of the world since 1968 – consumers can use any phone that doesn't harm the network – and the liberating policy that consumers should be able to use applications they want.
But Verizon has to have it all, and off to court it went, geeky techs included.