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Groups Debate Definition Of Open Access

Washington — Lobbying groups and companies are debating the merits of open-access rules approved yesterday by the FCC for a slice of the 700MHz analog-TV spectrum that will be auctioned off beginning in January.

FCC commissioners contended the rules will accelerate competition and foster innovative wireless applications and handsets that existing cellular carriers have stifled. The commission believes the rules will produce a single nationwide wireless network open to all compatible wireless devices, not just to those sold by the network operator and not just to those whose feature set is heavily influenced by the operator. The network operator will also be required to allow over-the-air downloads of applications and content from any third-party provider unless the downloads harm the network or are illegal.

The ruling was applauded by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), called “unfortunate” by CTIA-The Wireless Association, dubbed an “excellent first step” by Skype and lamented by lobbying group Public Knowledge as not going far enough.

Public Knowledge, for example, would have preferred that the open-access rules include a mandate that winners must wholesale their bandwidth to other companies to further encourage competition and innovation. The group also complained that the open-access rules approved by the FCC applied to only a single 22MHz block within the 62MHz of analog-TV spectrum that will be auctioned.

Here’s what various groups and companies had to say:

Gary Shapiro,CEApresident/CEO: “CEA commends the Commission for adopting rules regarding public safety and new wireless uses in the spectrum to be vacated by broadcasters at the successful completion of the transition to digital television. CEA has long supported consumers’ right to connect their choice of devices to networks so long as these devices cause no harm.

With today’s decision, consumers will soon enjoy the right to attach devices and download applications of their choosing to a portion of this spectrum.”

Steve Largent, CTIA president/CEO: “The FCC’s considerable deliberation over the 700 MHz auction rules has left us pleased in a number of respects and still concerned in others. Specifically, we believe the Commission has taken the appropriate approach by recognizing the importance of not restricting the number of auction entrants, nor requiring them to fulfill wholesale licensing requirements, or requiring geographic build-out on all the licenses. In these regards the FCC has replicated past auctions that have led to tremendous benefits for consumers and the U.S. Treasury.

At the same time, we are disappointed that a significant portion of this valuable spectrum will be encumbered with mandates that could significantly reduce the number of interested bidders … The competitive wireless marketplace that the FCC has encouraged in the past with market-oriented flexible-use policies has delivered benefits to American consumers that are nothing short of spectacular. The FCC’s deviation from the spectrum auction process that has proven to be so successful in the past could prohibit those benefits from being even more fully realized, and that’s unfortunate.”

Christopher Libertelli, Skype public affairs senior director: The vote “is an excellent first step and an endorsement of tour Carterfone position for open wireless devices and applications.”

Meg Whitman, eBay president/CEO: “eBay is encouraged by today’s FCC vote establishing ‘openness’ principles for wireless services in the context of the upcoming spectrum auction. We believe that ensuring greater choice for wireless devices and applications is a very positive development and we are very pleased that “Carterfone” principles are now part of the Commission’s spectrum policy.”

Gigi B. Sohn, president/co-founder of Public Knowledge: “Public interest groups and Internet companies had urged that the Commission adopt a four-part ‘open access’ program that would allow consumers to run any applications and use any devices they chose, would make spectrum available on to innovators on a wholesale basis, and would require interconnection for new services to existing networks …

“The FCC decided to apply a very limited open access policy to one-third of the spectrum available for auction … The Commission had the potential to do so much more. While Chairman Martin and some of the other commissioners spoke about the potential to help consumers by creating more competition for high-speed Internet services, at the end of the day they did nothing about it. If this auction ends up with incumbent carriers like Verizon and AT&T buying most, if not all, of the spectrum, and simply extending their existing services, consumers will have gained very little.

“A full ‘open access’ policy would have created the opportunity for new services and innovations, benefiting consumers, entrepreneurs, and the economy. The Commission’s failure to take this bolder step is a missed opportunity that will have repercussions for years to come.”