Democratic FCC Commissioner Adelstein: No IPhone For You! Step Up, 4G

Guess which FCC Commissioner is holding up a universal national wireless network?  It's not a Republican, it's Jonathan Adelstein, who doubts that a national wireless business will bid for spectrum.

Communications Commission member Jonathan Adelstein voiced doubts about the potential for a new national wireless broadband provider to enter the market to take on the incumbent telephone and cable broadband providers.

The Democratic commissioner said he was reluctant to structure the rules of the upcoming radio spectrum auction to encourage the entry of a new player unless there was a commitment that there would be a serious bidder at the auction.

"We don't want to set the table unless we know someone's going to come to dinner," Mr. Adelstein said.

He was speaking at a conference in Washington hosted by the Wireless Communications Association International, a lobby group for broadband service and infrastructure providers.

Speaking to reporters after his formal remarks, Mr. Adelstein said the FCC risked excluding smaller bidders from getting access to the valuable spectrum coming available for no reason if it designates a large block of it to be auctioned off but no large bidder comes forward.

A group calling itself the Coalition for 4G America has been aggressively lobbying for a 22 megahertz block of spectrum with a national license to be auctioned off. The coalition includes the likes of Google Inc., Intel Corp., EBay Inc. unit Skype Inc., and satellite television companies EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Group Inc.

It argues that such a chunk of spectrum would be necessary in order for a bidder to launch a significant challenge to the dominant cable and phone company broadband providers.

Great.  So Adelstein speaks at a lobbying event for the wireless industry in favor of a position supported by incumbent telcos.  I don't want to knock Adelstein, who has generally been a friend, and imply bad faith when it's not warranted.  I just don't really get his position and why he's reluctant to help create genuine competition for the wireless industry.  There are hundreds of billions on the line for various tech companies, so it's pretty clear there will be some business interest in this chunk of spectrum.  Lobbying is fast and furious, with calls flooding into Senate Commerce Committee offices.  

Meanwhile, John McCain sent a letter to the FCC as well on the 700 auction, and I'm trying to get a sense of what he means - he's calling for spectrum for public safety, which could help in terms of supporting a national wireless network, though I'm not entirely sure.  So far, no other Presidential candidates aside from John Edwards and John McCain have moved on this.

Update [2007-6-16 12:21:17 by Matt Stoller]: Obsidian Wings has a useful corrective on this post.

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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.

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Wireless Only Population Triples from 2004

The National Center for Health Statistics updated its estimates on the size of the population without landline telephones.  The data is was collected from July - December 2006, which means that the wireless only population is probably higher by now.  The full study is fascinating and located here.


The age group with the highest wireless only penetration is 25-29 year olds, at 30%.  I'm one of them.

I don't know how this impacts traditional polling techniques, but I am curious.

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American Wireless

Matt's mentioned Tim Wu's most excellent paper on the American wireless scene twice now, but I don't think this horse is dead yet. Wu paints a nice -- and by "nice," I mean kinda horrifying -- picture of what an Internet missing the fundamental principle of neutrality might look like. Take, for example, the state of innovation in the cellular market. Here in the U.S., wireless carriers rule the roost. They control what phones hook up to their networks. Since equipment developers have to design for particular networks, carriers pretty much control their entry into the market. Carriers lock phones to their networks and cripple on them neat technologies like Bluetooth, wi-fi, and even call timers (so as not to have you compare your records to theirs). Couple that with no real standards for software development, and few people bother building exciting new cell phone apps. To get a snazzy new iPhone you have enter into a contract with AT&T/Cingular, which is roughly analogous to Apple telling you that your new MacBook won't go online unless you switch to Comcast. The way wireless works today, innovation is only tolerated if it benefits the carrier, not the consumer.

Wireline (you know, when phones have wires) is of course pretty different. Yeah, the landline phone companies once argued that it was technically necessary for theirs to be "totally unified" systems. But today we can hook up just about any device to a phone line -- like, say, a modem -- because we were smart enough to enshrine the idea of open networks into law.

Over at the Agonist, Ian Welsh has more on the American wireless landscape, written in sort of fairy tale prose. Whatever it takes. In convincing people of the dangers of a carrier-controlled Internet, I think we could do worse than to get them to reflect on their own personal experiences as cell phone consumers.

Net neutrality and taxpayer funded wireless

From the business-oriented Advertising Age:

Content Providers Square Off Against Phone, Cable Companies

The potential winners if tiered Internet becomes a reality: the nation's big phone and cable companies, as well as the marketing partners who can afford the tolls for the access required to provide high-speed video and audio. The losers: consumers, who may have fewer choices and could see prices rise for Internet downloads; content providers that don't hook up with the phone or cable companies; content providers that compete with phone or cable companies; and the raft of small businesses and consumers who won't be able to compete, period.

And I didn't even know this was happening here in Chicago until today.

Chicago wireless plan advances

City Hall will seek proposals from private companies to extend high-speed wireless Internet service to all Chicago neighborhoods at little or no cost to consumers, Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday...

The City Council has been studying the possibility of Wi-Fi installation for more than a year.

Carolyn Kay

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