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7/10/2007
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FCC Chairman Wants Winner Of Wireless Auction To Allow Outside Devices, Applications

FCC Chairman Martin says open access requirements should help solve problems associated with U.S. cellular carriers limiting distribution of devices and features.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants the winner of the auction for 22 MHz of spectrum to allow the use of any wireless device and application as long as it doesn't interfere with the network, an FCC official has confirmed.

The official, who asked not to be named, declined to say who would determine whether a device or application interfered with the network. He said the guideline, if adopted, would apply to any carrier that wants to use the network. However, the bid winner would not be restricted to any particular pricing scheme, he said. And the remainder of the spectrum would not be subject to those requirements, he said.

The news came out after Martin spoke about plans for the highly anticipated wireless spectrum auction for the first time in an interview with a USA Today reporter. Several media outlets reported Tuesday that Martin had finished a draft of the rules that will govern the auction.

Several reports detailed various aspects of the proposal, which had not yet been circulated among Martin's colleagues at the FCC. Federal guidelines prohibit the public release of the document before the commissioners' vote, which is not expected to occur for three to seven weeks.

Critics didn't wait to react to the proposals. Groups that represent wireless carriers and consumers leveled complaints immediately.

Several articles indicated the rules will require an open broadband network that will benefit consumers. Martin told USA Today that open access requirements should help solve problems associated with U.S. cellular carriers limiting distribution of devices and features.

CTIA, an international association for wireless communications, released a statement saying that the media reports were wrong, that wireless providers offer Wi-Fi enabled devices throughout the country and do not restrict their availability.

Media reports varied on whether the new rules would favor large companies such as Google or smaller startups. Several reports said that bid winners would have to assist emergency responders with network access.

The FCC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity since the draft has not been released, said that the document itself had not been released to reporters. He said the rules will encourage innovation, competition, and broadband deployment, while benefiting consumers.

Public Knowledge, a group that has been pushing for open access, said the rules will not favor competition. The group criticized Martin, the FCC, and the media for putting a positive spin on a plan they say defines open access too narrowly.

"The public-interest community and the high-tech companies see 'open access' as requiring the winners of the spectrum auction to offer a slice of the space on a wholesale basis with no rules on what types of services or equipment could be offered," Art Brodsky, communications director at Public Knowledge, wrote in commentary released Tuesday. "That's a far cry even from loosened rules on a new slice of spectrum owned by existing companies."

Public Knowledge is funded and supported by dozens of academics, individuals, and industry groups, including Amazon.com, Clear Channel, Echostar, Google, Intel, Interactive, Sirius Satellite Radio, TiVo, Verizon, and Vonage.

"In theory, a true 'open access' regime could go some way to creating some competition in the wireless world in which there are four or five major companies which each have similar ways of doing business," Brodsky said. "A true open access regime could have given Apple the chance to deploy the iPhone on another network. A true open access regime could allow Google, or satellite companies, or any sort smaller entrepreneur with a great idea the chance to offer something newer and different from what the existing carriers provide. If Martin's plan holds up, they may never get the chance."

After Martin's colleagues vote on the draft, it will be released for public comment before final rules are adopted.

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