It’s no secret that the Telcos have major pull in Congress. Review any representative’s list of top campaign donors and you are more likely then not to find them at the top. It’s also no secret that AT&T and Verizon see a perfect world where they control all of the public airwaves. We’ve heard endless hand ringing in Congress about how bad wireless service is directly connected to too little spectrum in the control of carriers.
What they don’t mention is as much as half of the licensed spectrum in held major markets by the top two carriers isn’t even being used. There’s also no mention of repurposing any of that fallow spectrum for broadband like is being proposed for broadcast bands. Even if spectrum was lacking, increasing tower density can overcome virtually all capacity problems. None of this makes much sense unless we understand that the real issue isn’t the need for more spectrum to provide better service. It’s to gain control of the wireless last mile and effectively end competition.
Acting in the public interest to facilitate better service is not what this debate is about. After gaining control of more than half of the fixed line right of ways to the last mile, the two major telco’s slowed infrastructure improvements to a snails pace. That’s created an America with substandard broadband at some of the highest prices in the world. They have the same plan for wireless. By controlling all of the spectrum and consolidating into two companies, the non competitive broadband duopoly will be extended into the wireless space.
The House of Representatives wants to take control of spectrum auctions. They want us to believe that the FCC is acting to slowly to resolve that the completely fabricated “spectrum crisis”. According to former FCC chair Reed Hundt, the bill would end competition: (more…)
The wireless business as we know it should have ended with the smartphone. It did not because of tight handset control by a small cartel of service providers. This cartel succeeded in locking up the supply of devices largely by denying access to their networks with third party devices. By leveraging a tight knit relationship with regulators and lawmakers, these companies have also successfully locked up the lions share of wireless spectrum for their exclusive use. This same cartel is now clamoring to lock up more of the most useful airwaves even as they hold currently hold spectrum that is not being utilized. Lawmakers who have an unending need to spend more welcome the idea of a new windfall from yet another auction to exclusively assign public airwaves to the cartel.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, wireless carriers are aggressively offloading increased data traffic to narrow, increasingly overcrowded unlicensed WiFi networks. The reason isn’t hard to figure out. If more traffic can be pushed onto someone else’s network they can still charge large without building adequate infrastructure. Why not allow more unlicensed frequencies? Congress wants more money, and the carriers do not want an abundance of open spectrum available. That would encourage a whole new wave of competition that will demand new investment while pushing down prices. Make no mistake about it: The growing abundance of cheap WiFi only tablets and entertainment devices that do more than the carriers’ locked handsets could spell doom if the availability of WiFi grows.
I’m not the lone wolf howling on this open spectrum soapbox. Yochai Benkler at Technology Review seems to agree with me on most major points and has several good ones to add. Open spectrum is not being discussed by lawmakers because it does not benefit them. The next wave of wireless could lift all ships, including those of pols and a cartel. They need to get out of the way to make it happen, and they need to hear from all of us to make it so.
FCC chair magically discovers the AT&T T Mobile really is anti free market after the public outcry becomes deafening. With his unpopular boss’s re-election prospects dimming, this is one crony deal that may not make the cut.
High debt and the promise of more new competition inspires Wall Street to lose it’s enthusiasm for Netflix. The short term winners to watch for are big media companies that own large content libraries as demand for their product grows.
Penguin nixes library lending of eBooks. On self inflicted bullet to this publishers right foot, with five more to go.
Protect IP filibuster planned by Senator Wyden. It will include the reading the names of citizens who oppose it. Is your name on the list? If not you can add it here.
Core wars: 144 CPU chip goes into production.
There’s plenty of tech media coverage of Republic Wireless’ new hybrid mobile plan that was launched today. It’s great to see some new entrepreneurial blood in the stagnant US wireless market. The only real innovation in Republic’s offering is in its partial de-crippling an Andriod smart phone and setting up a deal to use Sprint’s network as a fall back for it’s potentially disruptive service. The low cost is possible because Republic’s service is only truly unlimited on WiFi connections, with a limit on 3G network usage.There’s also a pretty big investment for the consumer in the unproven service that entails buying a $199 locked handset up front.
If Republic’s service performs reasonably well, it could indeed be disruptive to the industry. What troubles me most is that this sort of utility exists in every smart phone with the addition of an app like Republic’s. If the FCC was truly representing the masses, all smart phones would be unlocked and there would be exponentially more businesses competing to offer wireless and mobile VoIP service via WiFi and other non traditional networks. While requiring the acceptance of unlocked handsets on all networks could create chaos in the marketplace, it would also foster innovation and grow the market for everyone – including the FCC’s wireless cartel.
In a presentation from IT Conversations – Moray Rumney makes the case that while promising 4G is yet to and may never deliver a true mobile broadband experience (at least at 2011 wired standards).
With the will to build enough backhaul and install enough points of presence, it is possible for the wireless carriers to deliver high services levels from a few narrow channels. That sort of deployment is in direct conflict with the old cell tower model that the industry is married to. While there are other less transparent benefits to allocating more spectrum the carriers, this is one reason why we keep hearing the call for more spectrum.
I have another solution that could solve the problem almost immediately. It involves a shift from walled gardens to a commons. Any new spectrum would go to that commons and old allocated bands should join the commons as services like CDMA and GSM are discontinued. After establishing the commons, all carriers would be free to use it on a low power, spread spectrum basis just like WiFi. Yes, there would be a very ugly transition, and the POP density would need to grow dramaticly. Offering anyone who would base a POP on their property a free broadband connection could easily solve that problem.
The first nation to adopt the commons model will soon lead the world in wireless. Without the overhead of leasing spectrum and tower sites, carriers could offer lower prices while enjoying higher margins. The FCC wouldn’t need the income from spectrum auctions to support a bloated bureaucracy – it could be dissolved. Everyone wins., but convincing the powers that be to look at a new model is a very difficult task.