FCC '700': Why You Can't Get Your iPhone
by Matt Stoller, Tue Jun 12, 2007 at 07:37:43 AM EDT
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.