FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

The big news today is a letter that Senator John Kerry, who sits on the Commerce Commitee, sent to the FCC asking for a better internet in light of the FCC's upcoming 700 auction of spectrum space.  Kerry is a tremendous ally of the net neutrality fight, helping lead the cause along with Ron Wyden and Byron Dorgan in the Senate.  Kerry also sits on the Commerce Committee, which is holding a hearing on Thursday on the issue.  This is big, big, big.  Already, 250,000 people have written the FCC on this issue, a major outpouring of organized grassroots support.  John Edwards has chimed in with smart policy recommendations, so it's gone Presidential (where are you, Obama, Clinton, Dodd, Richardson, Biden, etc).  

The fight over spectrum and open access involves a potential new industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and a moral argument about what the public airwaves are really for.  Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, and the Spectrum Company, which is backed by the cable industry, believe that our communications networks exist so that they can have something to control.  They are monopolists, run by seriously bad people, and viciously anti-democratic.  The telecom giants are large, lumbering, stupid beasts; cable companies are quick and weasely, but even more unethical if possible.  Both sets of companies offer awful service, dishonest pricing plans, and generally are in bed with politicians at a local level and on a Federal level that it's literally stunning.  The pay-to-play nature of the business runs through both parties, and it's not an accident that the late 1990s and early 2000s saw massive telecom frauds which benefitted high level political elites, including former DNC Chair and current Clinton campaign senior advisor Terry McAuliffe (Global Crossing) and Rudy Giuliani (MCI/Worldcom).  Verizon senior exec and policy head Tom Tauke is a former Republican Congressman, because this is a dirty dirty business with lots of money involved.

Consider that texting money over your cell phone, which is done regularly in foreign countries, doesn't happen here because the telecom companies will take half of all cash and send the vendor the balance in 180 days.  Boom.  That's an entire mobile economy that just isn't happening, thousands of entrepreneurs and jobs strangled in the crib by the capricious whims of the monopolists.  Or consider your roaming charges, or your high fees, or your year long contracts, or early termination fees, or the fact that you can't even change providers and keep your cell phone.  That's insane, they are all phones.  No, what's really restricting the iPhone from any company but AT&T is the monopolist deal that these companies have over our public airwaves, and that's all a spectrum game.  And for a long time, the only people who cared were the lobbyists and telecom companies getting rich off of it.  But now, because of net neutrality and Bush, hundreds of thousands of people are involved in a grassroots campaign over the very fiber of this country's communication network and by extension political and moral playing field.

Telecom expert Tim Wu, who coined the term net neutrality, has pointed this out, and linked it to an auction of incredibly valuable spectrum, the '700'.  John Edwards has, as part of his Presidential campaign, sent a letter to the FCC on this issue, asking for national licensing and pushing for what's called 'open access' to spectrum so anyone can have a slice of the public airwaves when they need it.  And are there new business models to take advantage of a different way of allocating the public airwaves, one that actually lets the public participate?  Oh, but of course there are many.  A consortium of business interests, innovators, have pushed hard for a mobile economy.  Arts Technica has a useful recap of the coalition politics.  And Google has suggested a novel approach to spectrum usage, putting forward the idea of a dynamic auction similar to adwords.  Adwords has revolutionized marketing, hundreds of billions of dollars worth, and led to a fundamentally different and more free America.

And with Time Warner introducing 'packet-shaping' technology, which could begin to create the censored internet we fear, it's exceptionally important at this time to have the FCC allocate spectrum along the lines of open access, so that we can at the very least have a wireless network that cannot be dominated and controlled by incumbents.  Surprisingly, the FCC Commissioners don't fall where yyou'd think. Republican Kevin Martin is sort of on board, whereas Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, are operating along the notion that having rural wireless companies get a piece of the spectrum is key.  This is an old model of liberalism, and it doesn't work in a world where telecom interests are done in entirely bad faith, but hopefully, they can be persuaded otherwise.  We need a new structure of our communications environment, and that means open access.

The Senate Commerce Committee will be holding hearings on this on Thursday to make this case.  As David Isenberg and Dave Weinberger have noted, there are no public interest advocates testifying on behalf of some critical pieces of technology.  

On Thursday the Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on how to re-purpose the 700 MHz (Analog TV) spectrum. While there are several good people testifying (most notably Phil Weiser, from University of Colorado, Paul Cosgrove, NYC's Commissioner of IT and Telecom, and Jim Barksdale, Reed Hundt's partner in Frontline Wireless) there will be NOBODY representing the public's interest in putting one or two channels into Part 15 (or similar) to capitalize on what we've learned from the unprecedentedly awesome success of Wi-Fi.

We're still paying attention and working on this.  And the key in this fight is that we've got industry allies who are aligned with us, and they can hopefully offset the telecom and cable monopolists.  If you want your iPhone and aren't on AT&T, or more to the point, the ability to have a national and neutral wireless broadband network, this matters to you.  Since the media regularly lies to us, this is about our ability to tell our own truths, to do our own research, to communicate our own ideas.  To be free.

Get on the Presidential campaigns who haven't done anything with this.  Ask Clinton, Obama, Dodd, Richardson, Biden, etc, why they haven't called on the FCC to act.  We've already loaded the FCC with comments, and we've already moved the debate far down the field.  The country is changing, even if the telecom and cable companies don't want it to.

Tags: FCC, John Edwards, John Kerry, net neutrality, spectrum reform, telecom policy, wireless, wireless neutrality (all tags)

Comments

11 Comments

these are "real world issues" too.

It seems like a no brainer for a presidential campaign to be all about this.

Just mentioning all of the BS you have to go through with contracts and "feudal telcom lords" and such.

But i guess they want that Telcom money?

-C.

by neutron 2007-06-12 10:10AM | 0 recs
Re: FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

Excellent post Matt. When you're on you're on.

by markg8 2007-06-12 12:26PM | 0 recs
Re: FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

FREE THE AIRWAVES!

by SocialDem 2007-06-12 12:38PM | 0 recs
Verizon ad

Matt, totally agree with you here.  Anything you can do about the Verizon ad right in the middle of this post?  I understand the desire for ads, and how difficult it can be to be on top of what ads pop up where, but this is a bit funny - if taking it as 'funny' is appropriate or not may be a good question, or can it just mean I can go ahead and get my iPhone? :)

by Ag 2007-06-12 12:44PM | 0 recs
I didn't see the Verizon ad

because I run Firefox with the ad graphics turned off for this site. If there was text with the ad it was too small to catch my attention.

Now there are more "sophisticated" sites where it's harder to get the ad graphics off, but Matt and Chris et al aren't doing all those things. So in a sense they are already doing something for us vis a vis the "Verison ad".

by Jeff Wegerson 2007-06-13 09:48AM | 0 recs
Re: FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

Case in point. I recently posted several extended comments about using one's cell phone to connect to the internet on a laptop. I've been doing it for years with Sprint's original Vision service (and before that with its Wireless Web service). It's slow--dialup speeds--but it works, it's available just aboubt everywhere, and if you have the right plan, it's effectively free (so long as you don't abuse it by downloading movies and loads of MP3s, which I don't).

They have a fairly new service now called Power Vision that's supposed to be much faster, and since I've been connected to the internet this way buying a laptop last year, I decided to look into upgrading to this new service. So I went online to see what it entailed, then called their customer service line to get more details. The deal is that you need both a new phone that can use this new service, and a new plan that allows you to use it. So far so good--I needed a new phone anyway.

The problem is that each rep I spoke to--and it's imperative to call them several times to make sure that what you're told is true--had a different story. The first guy, who seemed very knowledgeable (and upon whose advice I made my previous comments) told me that I could use my current plan with a new phone, and connect my laptop to the internet with it, and usage would go against voice minutes (I have a lot--2500, plus unlimited off-peak, so this would have been great for my level of usage).

But the next two reps told me that this wasn't the case, and that to do this, I'd have to buy a special "phone as modem" plan for an additional $40/mo on top of my base plan--which I'd also have to upgrade--for unlimited internet usage. So I've been given two very different explanations for how to use this service, and am totally confused. I'm going to call them several more times and see if I can talk to someone higher up to clear this up, as I'd really like to be able to switch over to the new service.

My point is that the technology to do some pretty amazing things with computers, communications and electronic devices exists, but that for whatever reasons US telco companies are doing a terrible job of making it practically usable for most people, who don't want to and/or can't pay fairly steep fees to use it.

You'd think that touting the ability to connect to the internet on your laptop anywhere your cell phone works, at speeds rivalling DSL and even cable modems, would be a no-brainer, and that they'd make it both easy and cheap to blow away all those crazy WiFi plans that only work in certain places and, since they're shared with other users, are slow and insecure. Maybe they don't have the capacity to handle so many users yet, so have to charge a fairly high (for most people) rate to keep usage manageable. But they've been talking about this ability for years, so you'd think they've ramped up their capacity by now to handle such usage.

Sometimes it seems to me that the way we do telcom in this country isn't just arcane, inefficient and bad for consumers, but also for these telcoms, in that they're losing potential revenue by trying to overcontrol the market, and making it far less efficient and useful than it could be. I don't know. Perhaps I'm focusing on the wrong issues here. But when I read about all the stuff people are able to do with cell phones in other countries that we can't do here, I just don't get it.

In the meantime, I'll keep calling them to see how this actually works. It's nice to be able to connect to the internet via my cell phone, but if I have to pay an additional $40/mo to get faster speeds for fairly light usage (5~10 MB/day 2-3 days a week), I'll probably pass and keep my current phone and plan for now.

by kovie 2007-06-12 01:42PM | 0 recs
Bought a USB modem for my laptop with Verizon

$50 a month, but I'm in heaven.  I can use it anywhere I get a cellphone signal.  I can use it in the plane until I take off.  I can use it in my car.  I don't have to find a cafe.  I'm happy. But the idea of signing away the deed to the ranch was a little weird.

by Feral Cat 2007-06-12 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Bought a USB modem for my laptop with Verizon

How fast is it, compared to DSL or cable, and why did you go with Verizon over Sprint?

I'd love to be able to use one of these faster devices (I'm actually typing this while connected using my current, dialup-speed cell phone), but can't justify the $40-$60/mo price since I won't use it enough and already pay $50/mo for cable (which I'd rather not cancel since I also have a desktop which I keep on 24/7 and would like to keep connected to the internet fulltime so I can access it remotely when not home).

What I'm hoping to do is negotiate a "retention" deal with Sprint since I'm off contract now, that includes modem use for about what I'm paying now. They tend to offer such plans to people whose 1 or 2 year contracts have expired and who are threatening to switch to another carrier. You have to know about this and ask for it, though. This is what I did when I got my current phone several years ago.

In any case, to get back to the point of this thread, we shouldn't have to do this to get high-quality telcom service for a reasonable price. I can see why companies might still need to negotiate to get the best deals, but individuals should not have to do this for personal use. The telcoms simply have too much control over this, because there are so few of them and they've got way too much political power now. It's just crazy.

And of course it's not just telcoms, but all industries that provide necessary or near-necessary products and services such as power, fuel, health care, food, etc. The quality/price ratio has been steadily declining in recent decades and this has got to be reversed, not just because it's the right thing to do, but in order to prevent this country from turning into a banana "republic".

by kovie 2007-06-12 06:00PM | 0 recs
Re: FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

Thanks for this update, Matt.  It's interesting how some elected officials you can count on on vital issues like net neutrality, while others you can't.  Good on Senator Kerry for being on the forefront of this issue.

by beachmom 2007-06-12 01:51PM | 0 recs
Thanks, Matt. This and media reform are the

biggest issues because without information we cannot sustain our democracy.  Glad Edwards is on board.   He's been interested in internet issues since he was in the Senate.  This is also part of his plan to end poverty and lift people up by closing the digital divide.

by Feral Cat 2007-06-12 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone

Thank you for the update on this! It's great that Seator Kerry has taken some action. I just hope more of the politicians will do the same.

by Rex 2008-02-26 12:33AM | 0 recs

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