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7/13/2007
03:23 PM
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'Free The iPhone' Campaign Calls For Open Internet

An organization called Free Press launched a campaign asking Americans to sign a petition to the FCC and Congress to open up the mobile Internet.

A consumer advocacy organization is using the popularity of Apple's new iPhone as an opportunity to urge Americans to demand an open mobile Internet.

The organization, known as Free Press, launched a campaign on Friday called FreetheiPhone.org. As part of the campaign, Americans are asked to sign a petition addressed to the Federal Communications Commission and Congress so they can free up the mobile Internet.

The upcoming auction of radio spectrum in the 700 MHz band will play a big role in that decision. Congress set a deadline for what is called the "Digital Television Transition," requiring local television stations to switch from analog to digital signals by February 2009. The 700 MHz that they currently use will be auctioned by the FCC either later this year or early next year and is expected to raise about $10 billion. The spectrum is expected to be used for wireless communications services.

Free Press fears that bidders will include the incumbent telecom carriers, cellular carriers, satellite providers, and cable providers, and most of them have restrictions on the types of devices that can be connected to their networks.

Free Press is a member of another coalition called Save Our Spectrum, which is lobbying the FCC to change the auction rules, allowing the creation of a high-speed Internet service that would compete with cable and DSL. In a series of three filings with the FCC earlier this year, the coalition proposed that the spectrum be auctioned off at a wholesale level, so that various Internet Service Providers would be able to use it to offer broadband services.

Save Our Spectrum has asked the FCC to either prohibit large telecom carriers from bidding or require them to bid through separate affiliates. "What we really want is competitors in the broadband market to create a third pipe. With open access we can solve the problem," said Ben Scott, policy director at Free Press, in a past interview with InformationWeek.

Free Press argues that Apple's iPhone, which is only available on AT&T's network in the Unites States, and other mobile devices that have been locked into carriers' networks are examples of bad policies that have created an uncompetitive wireless industry.

Other supporters, including Google and eBay's Skype, got a step closer to winning their battle earlier this week, when FCC chairman Kevin Martin called for "openness" in draft rules for the 700 MHz auction.

Openness, in this context, means that users will have the freedom to use any type of wireless device and be able to invent or implement a variety of wireless services without restrictions from the carrier operating the network.

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