If they’re lucky, Americans have two choices for getting high-speed Internet access: the local cable company or the local telephone company.
Hoping to increase competition, regulators have promised that a third choice will become available when TV broadcasters abandon part of the airwaves as part of the digital revolution.
But a proposal previewed this week by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission suggests that dreams of a ”third pipe” for broadband is really a pipe dream.
A critical provision that some say is needed to attract a new broadband competitor did not make it into the draft.
Some technology companies like Google, as well as a number of public interest groups, want the FCC to require licensees in at least one swath of the 700 MHz spectrum being auctioned to offer wireless services on a ”wholesale basis.”
Ensuring that the deep-pocketed carriers pay top dollar for the spectrum is a high priority for FCC commissioners because the auction proceeds have already been allocated by Congress, according to two commission staff members who spoke on the condition on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
That could reduce support for Martin’s proposal for an open network, which appeals to the two Democratic commissioners, the staff members said.
But the open access conditions could strengthen Martin’s chances of gaining majority support for his preference for large geographic licenses — an idea he’s had a hard time selling to the Democratic commissioners. […]
Critics in the mobile phone industry complain that Martin’s rules favor Google at the taxpayers’ expense. And they’re probably right about the cost — attaching regulatory strings to the frequencies will almost certainly reduce what they fetch at auction. But the point isn’t to raise the most money for the Treasury, it’s to generate the broadest public benefit from these valuable public airwaves. Martin’s proposal could inspire the same kind of inventiveness that’s been a hallmark of the Web. Still, his draft doesn’t go far enough. The FCC should also require winning bidders to provide wholesale access to their networks, at least for the frequencies in question. That’s the best way to increase competition in broadband.
The subcommittee hearing of July 11 — Wireless Innovation and Consumer Protection — Tim Wu testified (local copy) (Washpost coverage — FCC Auction Should Allow for Open Wireless Network, Say Lawmakers — pdf)