July 31st, 2007 | Published in Google Public Policy
The Federal Communications Commission made real, if incomplete, progress for consumers this afternoon, as it set the rules for an upcoming auction of the publicly owned spectrum in the 700 MHz band.
None of us like how the current system locks you into wireless service plans that limit the kind of phone or PDA you can use, prevent you from downloading and using the software of your choice, and charge you hefty termination fees if you try to get out. And it's hard to ignore how the existing wireless carriers talk a good game about the virtues of the free market, but prefer to keep us stuck in their closed market. Today the FCC took some concrete steps on the road to bringing greater choice and competition to all Americans.
In essence, the FCC embraced two of the four openness conditions that we suggested several weeks ago: (1) open applications, the right of consumers to download and utilize any software applications or content they desire; and (2) open devices, the right of consumers to utilize their handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer. We understand that the Commission also may have added real teeth to these two requirements, by plugging some of the more obvious loopholes and giving consumers a tangible remedy for any carrier violations.
Just two months ago, the notion that the FCC would take such a big step forward to give consumers meaningful choice through this auction seemed unlikely at best. Today -- thanks in no small part to broad public support for greater competition -- the FCC has embraced important principles of openness, and endorsed the unfettered workings of the free market for software applications and communications devices. Moreover, over the last few weeks several leading wireless carriers have reversed course and for the first time acknowledged our call for more open platforms in wireless networks. By any measure, that's real progress.
By the same token, it would have a more complete victory for consumers had the FCC adopted all four of the license conditions that we advocated, in order to pave the way for the real "third pipe" broadband competition that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been touting. For our part, we will need time to carefully study the actual text of the FCC's rules, due out in a few weeks, before we can make any definitive decisions about our possible participation in the auction.
In the meantime, we thank Chairman Martin for his leadership, and his compelling insight that American consumers deserve better in the wireless and broadband worlds. We've also had the pleasure of working on this issue with a broad cross-section of public interest groups that understand the need to foster more choices and competition in the wireless and broadband worlds.