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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Nationwide Wireless Broadband Internet

Over the last several weeks I've been laboring through the process of trying to get mobile broadband internet for my laptop, a task that has proved surprisingly difficult given that I use a Mac rather than a PC. Though I have seemed to alleviate my individual problem (I dumped Cingular/ATT in favor of Sprint), a larger more fundamental issue still remains: Achieving universal broadband internet coverage at least in part by greatly increasing the implementation and reach of wireless service.

MoveOn is beginning to directly address this issue of wireless internet access. Civic Action just launched a major initiative to tell the Federal Elections Commission to write regulations that serve the public's good rather than that of the large telecommunications corporations. Explaining their petition, MoveOn writes,

The federal government is on the verge of turning over a huge portion of our public airwaves to companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast--who will use them for private enrichment instead of the public good.

These newly available airwaves are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionize Internet access -- beaming high-speed signals to every park bench, coffee shop, workplace, and home in America at more affordable prices than current Internet service. Phone and cable companies don't want this competition to their Internet service--they'd rather purchase the airwaves at auction and sit on them.

In June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will make a major decision: Use the public airwaves for the public good, or turn them over to big companies who will stifle competition, innovation, and the wireless Internet revolution. We're urging the FCC to mandate that whoever wins the auction cannot stifle competition and innovation.

The FCC has been at this juncture before, weighing the merits of innovation and public interest versus large corporations' short-term lust for high profits. Back in 1947 a decision by the commission to side with broadcasters against ATT over the use of and access to portions of spectrum held back the development of cellular technologies for one to two decades. A similar decision by the FCC today on spectrum, this time relating to wireless internet rather than cellular technologies, would be equally short-sighted and perhaps even more deleterious towards technological development.

Currently, the rate in growth of internet access within the America has seemingly stalled, and the United States now trails several countries including Estonia -- yes, the Estonia whose per capita GDP is only about two-fifths of that of the United States -- in terms of broadband access, according to some metrics. In this light, it becomes even more clear that a decision by the FCC to side with telcos against the American public on this issue could be highly disastrous.

If you believe that America should not be in the second- or third-tier of high-speed internet access and that the publicly-owned radio spectra should be allocated in ways that serve the American public, not just large corporations, head on over to MoveOn and show your support for this extremely important initiative.

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Innovators/Entrepreneurs Wanted for FCC Action

So a bunch of us have written about a wireless spectrum auction coming down the pike.  Basically, a chunk of spectrum is coming free and the FCC is considering how to allocate it.  What happens with this spectrum will determine whether we can build a new America with a genuinely revolutionary open culture, or whether the cable and telecom gatekeepers get to continue to use the public airwaves and prevent innovation.  Today, Moveon, Freepress, and Working Assets all went out with action items.  Moveon's petition is here. There's also a facebook group I want national wireless Internet!.

I have a special request for people who are either entrepreneurs or are innovating in some social capacity that is reliant on communication networks.  We need you!  There is a movement afoot to organize innovators who understand barriers to entry, folks in the wireless technology field, consumer advocates, pro-competition advocates, and organizations active on these issue. If this applies to you, email

You matter on this one.  And it's a big deal.  We'll put you to good use, whether you can go public or not.

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"The New Internet Revolution"

Nancy blogged on Sunday about a huge spectrum slice that's going to be allocated by the FCC in the next few days. I've included an email from Free Press on the flip that explains the situation, but the bottom line is that this could be like wifi, only with a chunk of the spectrum that is about 100 times better. Of course the cable companies and the Verizon and AT&T want it for themselves, but there's no technical reason these public airwaves couldn't be used for the benefit of the public. As an aside, winning on this one would be a huge step forward on net neutrality. The deadline for comments has been extended until June 4.

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