Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

This is very exciting news. John Edwards is the first Presidential candidate to ask the FCC to unlock the incredible block of spectrum coming open in the next few years.  It's a bit complicated, as telecom stuff always is, but basically you have a huge slice of the public airwaves coming free, and the FCC must decide how it's going to be auctioned off.  Because the legislation freeing the spectrum was a budget bill, the auction must bring in a certain amount of money, so just making the spectrum open and free isn't an option.

The rules of the auction are key, because if a wireless incumbent like AT&T, Verizon, or a cable-owned wireless carrier like Sprint can muddle up the economics of a wireless broadband network, they will..  If the FCC decides to auction the spectrum off in regional chunks, then Verizon can, say, bid up the price of the Northeast section.  Since these networks only because profitable if they are national in scope, a large regional chunk controlled by an incumbent would prevent other bidders from creating an open national network.  

A good FCC could ban incumbents from bidding, but that's unlikely.  Still, if the bids are not anonymous, then there's possible collusion among the various incumbents.  Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint do not want to really use this spectrum, they just want to keep it off the market since that increases the value of their own existing-owned spectrum.  So anonymous bidding is important.  

And finally, wireless net neutrality would be really useful.  This basically means if you bought an iPhone you could use it on any network.  Locked in pricing, bans on innovation, and total telecom control of the network would be gone if this rule were in place.

Edwards is visiting Silicon Valley today, so his press release is stamped 'Mountain View'.  He won't be the last to speak out on this critical auction.

Dear Chairman Martin:

The upcoming 700 megahertz spectrum auction presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the next generation of American technology.

In recent years, the Internet has grown to touch everything and transform much of what it touches. It's not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.

As you know, the Federal Communications Commission is now preparing to auction the 700 megahertz slice of the spectrum. This "beachfront" band is particularly well suited to wireless broadband because it has wide coverage and can easily pass through walls.

By setting bid and service rules that unleash the potential of smaller new entrants, you can transform information opportunity for people across America -- rural and urban, wealthy and not. As much as half of the spectrum should be set aside for wholesalers who can lease access to smaller start-ups, which has the potential to improve service to rural and underserved areas. Additionally, anyone winning rights to this valuable public resource should be required not to discriminate among data and services and to allow any device to be attached to their service. Finally, bidding should be anonymous to avoid collusion and retaliatory bids.

I urge you to seize this chance to transform the Internet and the future.


John Edwards

To offer a bit of historical context, telecom/media issues had not been discussed by the public in any serious way since the 1930s.  After the fight over radio, when big companies began monopolizing everything and captured our regulatory agencies, the public was cut out of the process.  Both television in the 1950s and cable in the 1980s were huge moneypots delivered to business elites, without substantive input or discussion.  The internet was basically an accident, developed off grid by the government.

The first time the public really engaged in a mass scale in structural media issues since the 1920s was in 2003, on media consolidation rules.  Millions of people moved on this because they felt betrayed by the Iraq war and the trivialization of our politics and media.  And then in 2005-2006, we had net neutrality, and now the Presidentials are beginning to weigh in on spectrum.

This is a big deal.  We're at an inflection point.

Tags: Barack Obama, FCC, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, net neutrality (all tags)



Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

Great move!

by Bob Brigham 2007-05-30 10:43AM | 0 recs
'When they own the information....

...they can bend it any way they please.'

For our democracy to survive, the people need to own the information and distribution channels.

by MeanBoneII 2007-05-30 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Inflection Point

What do yo mean by "inflection point"?  Is that similar to a "turning point"? Or is it similar to saying "reaching critical mass"? Or, is it something else? I'm aware of a mathematical definition for the phrase, but am unfamiliar with it's use as applied to politics.

by AmericanJedi 2007-05-30 10:51AM | 0 recs
Hooray for Edwards!

And after two decades of talking about the Fairness Doctrine, spectrum allocation, and related stuff, and finding no one else who cared to think about it for more than five minutes, it's still weirder than I can say to hear other people than me geeking about telecom issues.

Wonderful, I gotta say.  But still weird.

by RT 2007-05-30 11:01AM | 0 recs
geeking about telecom issues

i love it!

by mrobinsong 2007-05-30 02:30PM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

2003 was really an amazing occurrence.  The public response, as you note was unprecedented. A lot of the groups working on this issue today got off the ground during that time and really built up their membership.  It has meant more activism on a whole host of other issues like this one.

by juls 2007-05-30 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

Good for John.  How many times has someone frontpaged here saying, "John Edwards was the first..."

He's already there with us on these kinds of issues, and he'll fight for them.

On the issue as a whole, I think that this is pretty damn exciting.  Here in WI right now, we have a major issue with a cable TV bill going through the state legislature that would, in addition to some good and some bad things, help get rid of local cable networks (very bad).  The chairman of the state Democratic Party is lobbying for AT&T which is pushing the bill.  But something like the wireless broadband application of using this part of the spectrum would render that issue obsolete, and make some huge changes in communications and daily life.

by Peter from WI 2007-05-30 11:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

This fits very well with the Edwards theme of promoting a more democratic society.  It's often nearly invisible rules and bills like these that set the frame work for the spectrum of voices heard in this country.

This may not look like a big deal in the politically in horse race sense, but it's a big deal politically for long term democratic and economic competition in this country.

by MassEyesandEars 2007-05-30 01:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

I agree, Net Neutrality important and it feeds into his Rural Recovery plan, which got lost in the news.  

I posted a diary at Kos about the plan, in which net neutrality was very much part of the strategy, then VT tragedy happened.  No news about rural recovery or net neutrality.

Instead the frickin' MSM, including the high and mighty NYT continues to focus on Edwards' wealth and thinking rich people only care about rich people.  

Terrible about the NYT, they bought into Drudge and Fox News's memes.

by benny06 2007-05-30 01:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards to the FCC: Free Our Spectrum

Has the been tried in other countries before? I would really like to see an example of how it might work, how such a wholesale leaser might work and how devices and the small startups that work on the spectrum are licensed.

If it's going to come down to who can buy the spectrum and lease it, the leaser is going to need some deep pockets without a strong sense of knowing what the spectrum will actually be used for by the smaller startups. It might be Google's cup of tea, but I don't think that's what they're going for. It's the FCC itself which has to decide it's going to start doing these small anonymous auctions themselves (maybe excluding existing commercial spectrum owners) and at the same time somehow ensure device interoperability. That would require the FCC to do a lot of things it hasn't done before, and I don't think the FCC is up to the task of picking wireless standards to ensure interoperability.

Let's say the FCC just makes interoperability a requirement and lets the leasers' figure out the rest of it, for any part of this spectrum to be leased at an affordable price, it's either going to have to be split up by region (which is ok, if the devices from different regions are going to be inter-operable, in which case the startups will basically be operators) or into even smaller pieces of spectrum where the networks and devices will start losing features and have slower connections. I mention either of those options because this spectrum somehow needs to make money for the FCC. There is no way to guarantee the telco's won't stay out of the regional auctions, but, it might get interesting if the states/cities start showing interest in this.

If there is one body that I would say might actually move the FCC singlehandedly on this, it's the IEEE (I'm a student member), and they may very well choose to stay out of it, but the IEEE-USA has lobbied congress for some things. If they could start the process for a standard which can be used just for real-time spectrum auctions (This is what Google really suggests) and not the network itself (at least not yet) it could give the FCC a lot of confidence and say, hmm, this could actually work. I'm talking about the whole idea of "automate the auction bidding process and permit it to take place without users noticing" as the NYT Google article says.

The IEEE could then make the standard on which the data/other services would run on as well, like IEEE 802.11a/b/g (WiFi) or 802.15 (Bluetooth) among may other IEEE standards. The new standard would be a lot more dynamic about which spectrum to use, and it would use it as a scarce resource. Meaning more efficient usage of spectrum, and cheaper too. Quite frankly, "beachfront" spectrum might be determined by the telco's or other private firms to be way too important for this sort of an experiment. Like I said, I wouldn't mind knowing if something similar has been tried elsewhere.

by audi100quattro 2007-05-30 01:28PM | 0 recs


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