Today’s show featured my research into Spectrum. You can download the whole entire thing here. Listen for the nice listener who called in and gave thanks at the halfway point.
As promised on the show, here is the transcript for my feature on the most current debate regarding Spectrum, for Digital Crossroads.
In February 2009, Analog Television signals will stop. I have covered and will continue to cover the issues regarding America’s transition to Digital TV. But what about the spectrum that is freed up when the TV Broadcasters stop using it?
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission decided Wednesday to continue seeking public comment on how the sale of the airwaves will work. The FCC intends to auction the coveted “700 mHz band” by the end of this year, in addition to creating a public safety network so that emergency workers can better communicate with each other.
Reuters reported this week that a coalition of consumer groups and a start-up technology firm called Frontline have pushed the agency to seek more comment from the public. The airwaves, and “700 MHz band” are considered so valuable that they are seen as the last opportunity for new players to enter the wireless market.
The FCC has to define how the auction will work, provide a set of rules on how the spectrum will be divided up, as well as say what kind of services can be offered using the airwaves.
…ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THE FCC CAN DO FOR YOU AND ME!
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, with his legacy at the Commission in serious doubt, said in a statement: “Depending on how we structure the upcoming auction, we will either enable the emergence of a third pipe… or we will miss our biggest opportunity.”
What he means by third pipe is a new possibility for high speed Internet. Right now, all across America the phone companies like Qwest and AT&T, and the cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast, have immense power because the two formats, Phone and Cable, have duopoly control over our access to high speed Internet access. As I have covered repeatedly here on Digital Crossroads, Americans’ access to high upload and download speeds is dismal compared to the top ten industrialized nations on Earth.
THE FCC HAS THE REGULATORY AUTHORITY TO CHANGE THIS LANDSCAPE IN 2007.
A coalition known as Save Our Spectrum has issued a short list of recommendations and yesterday issued a statement commending the FCC for its careful procedures thus far. The powerhouse members of the coalition are: Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and Public Knowledge.
Among other recommendations, the group told the FCC that the auction for the 700 MHz band should Commission should:
#1. establish an open access service rule for broadband services operating in the 700 MHz band that protects the consumer’s right to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis without interference from the network provider. This is a similar concept to Network Neutrality, covered extensively here on Digital Crossroads over the past year.
#2. allow third-party access to spectrum owned by other companies. This “open access” plan to include wholesale access to networks would enable more competitors to offer services. The other player paid close attention by the FCC, Frontline Wireless, which includes former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, is asking for about 1/6th of the newly available spectrum to licensed for open access. The Save Our Spectrum coalition supports Frontline, but hopes the FCC will go further.
With a portion of the available Spectrum earmarked for new public safety channels, the coalition hopes the FCC will offer half of what remains for new market growth. Michael Calabrese, head of the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program, hopes the FCC will be opening QUOTE “as much as half the spectrum in the auction for wholesale access by the thousands of small and mostly rural wireless Internet Service Providers, community wirelesss networks and other innovative services that cannot afford to buy exclusive licenses covering large areas. We believe this will promote badly needed broadband deployment and competition.” ENDQUOTE
and #3. institute anonymous bidding in auctions to lessen the possibility of “bid signalling” and “bid rigging” that took place in a recent wireless auction, shown by Media Access Project studies. Of particular concern to the Save Our Spectrum coalition is the power of the cable and telephone industry giants.
Harold Feld of Media Access Project writes QUOTE “The Commission has wisely chosen to ask all the important questions despite the efforts of the incumbents to shut down the debate. We look forward to a critical and robust discussion which will have lasting impacts on our digital future.” ENDQUOTE
The President of Public Knowledge, Gigi Sohn, has issued repeated communiques suggesting Chairman Kevin Martin could redeem his reputation with the creation of a Third Pipe for high speed Internet. She said in a statement on the Save Our Spectrum website, QUOTE “We are very pleased that the Commission recognizes the pivotal role this auction will play in helping to create a competitor to cable and the telephone companies. If the Commission adopts the rules we suggest, consumers will benefit from having more companies offer more types of services in many different areas. We are grateful to Chairman Martin and to the commissioners for their help and responsiveness to our public interest concerns.” ENDQUOTE
However, according to RCR Wireless News, a coalition of 21 small- and medium-sized wireless and wireline carriers and state regulatory agencies are less optimistic, worrying the FCC is leaning toward a 700 MHz band plan largely favoring large geographic wireless licenses over small ones for auction later this year.
The group told the FCC, QUOTE: “This is a matter of great importance … given the unique technical attributes of the 700 MHz band, which make it ideally suited to serve many of the more rural areas that are served or are proposed to be served by the proponents of the Balanced Consensus Plan.” ENDQUOTE
Included in the coalition are Alltel, Aloha Partners, Dobson Communications, Leap Wireless, MetroPCS Communications, U.S. Cellular, and the Rural Cellular Association.
In testimony before a House telecom subcommittee, the president of Cellular South, Victor Meena said QUOTE “If the FCC does not have multiple small and medium blocks with paired spectrum, all small and regional carriers will be forced to compete against each other in one or two blocks of spectrum, while the large carriers will have the very large spectrum blocks to themselves because smaller carriers cannot compete in the auction for those licenses.” ENDQUOTE
Last week, Nalaka Gunawardene wrote in Media Helping Media, that Media Freedom is at stake in similar struggles for access to spectrum, more broadly, in his native South Asia.
I AM GOING TO QUOTE HERE FROM HIS PIECE: “On May 3, the annual World Press Freedom Day will once again be observed worldwide, focusing public attention on a multitude of threats to freedom of expression through the mass media.
But amidst the extremely relevant and necessary slogans, we are unlikely to hear this slogan: Hands off our spectrum. Yet saving our spectrum is critical for ensuring media freedom.
The electro-magnetic spectrum has been called the ‘invisible wealth of nations’, and all broadcasting using the airwaves relies on the fair, equitable and sound management of this common property resource.
And as economic and cultural practices move more and more into the digital realm, the spectrum’s value is only set to increase.
But few people -– even within the media profession and industry -– appreciate our dependence on this finite resource. Out of sight does seem to push it out of most people’s minds.
Therein lurks a danger: what we don’t see and value can be quietly taken away, without many of us realising it.
Evolving into an information society requires that frequencies are allocated in a balanced way amongst community, commercial and public service media.
But that’s just what has not happened in a large number of countries — some developed and many developing ones among them.” ENDQUOTE
In some ways, the Frontline group offers the most exciting developments, particularly among geeks and others with insight into their proposal. One of the investors in the Frontline consortium is Vanu Bose, son of audio designer Amar Bose. According to an April 8th article in the New York Times, Bose is pursuing an advanced radio technology known as software-defined radio, controlling frequencies with software rather than hardware.
In principle, this would permit much more efficient use of radio spectrum, allowing the sharing of frequencies through a variety of techniques .
Frontline proposes to create a large “spectrum block” that could be sold wholesale to companies that are building services for new portable Internet devices for receiving and transmitting voice, video and data. In the event of public safety emergencies, however, the spectrum could be reclaimed for use by cops, firefighters or medical emergency workers.
Though others in the industry question the Frontline proposal’s legality, it is ultimately up to the FCC to decide if it is realistic. In addition to support from the Save Our Spectrum coalition, Frontline also has support from the likes of Google (possibly looking to buy into NBC/Universal/GE?)
Harold Feld, of Media Access Project, wrote a blog on April 7th that he called the “Field Guide to the 700 Mhz Auction”. A key passage is titled “Why Everybody Cares”. QUOTE-
The 700 MHz auction attracts so much attention because the physical characteristics of the “broadcast bands” make it the Holy Grail of wireless. Radio waves in this band travel farther, penetrate physical objects better, and bend around obstructions better than in any other band likely to become available in the foreseeable future. As a result, it becomes economically, as well as technically, possible to do really high speed wireless broadband access with licenses comprising fewer frequency bands. It takes many fewer cell sites to cover an area, and it becomes easier in urban areas to deal with topography issues that make cell phone service difficult. ENDQUOTE
Feld’s blog is a great place to get a big picture of this Spectrum issue. I only wish I had found it at the beginning of my homework for today’s show, instead of One Hour Ago, literally.
<>In the interest of time, let’s get to the bottom line: The United States was ranked 12th in the world last year in broadband penetration by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If you like paying too much for Internet speeds that are a joke to millions and millions of people in other countries, do nothing. New America Foundation’s research director J.H. Snider says QUOTE “If there were a Nobel Prize for lobbying, I would give it to Nextel.” ENDQUOTE
<>If you care about the future of our communication, and I’m sure you do if you’re still listening right now, then you will be interested in what the FCC does over the next 6 months. This Auction Could Change Everything in America. The analog TV signals, your rabbit ears or roof antennas, will be lying in landfills in two years, but the public could gain a great deal from the move to Digital TV. It is up to us to demand the best from the Federal Communications Commision. It is up to them to listen.
<>Free Press policy director Ben Scott says QUOTE: “If we’re going to close the digital divide at home and keep up with the rest of the world, we need more broadband competition.” “The auction of this invaluable slice of the public airwaves may be our best and last chance to build the much-anticipated third pipe for high-speed Internet access. Now is our chance to build a neutral, open and competitive alternative to the cable-DSL duopoly. We urge the FCC to choose the path that promises to bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans.” ENDQUOTE
Select sources of this research are available upon request.
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