Free Spectrum for Cities: Fergetaboutit

Posted by Sam Churchill on

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.

The FCC’s Broadband Plan is supposed to “bridge the digital divide”, providing inexpensive broadband for more people in the United States. But will it?

Four years ago M2Z asked the FCC to give them unused, non-paired spectrum left over in the AWS band (1700/2100MHz). In lieu of up-front cash, AWS would pay the Treasury 5% off the top every year. Advertising revenue, said M2Z, would cover their expenses, with a premium tier available ad-free. M2Z claimed their service would be available nationwide at little or no cost to anyone.

This portion of the band – called AWS III (2155-2175 MHz) was orphaned as an unpaired 20 MHz chunk. M2Z proposed free nationwide WiMAX service if the FCC would give them the spectrum. Advertising would pay for the 768 Kbps wireless service. But the FCC, under Kevin Martin, killed the idea as favoritism towards one company.

The National Broadband Plan recommended that the FCC make 300 megahertz available for mobile use within 5 years. The current FCC boss Julius Genachowski has pushed the Broadband Plan to auction off the AWS-3 Band with twenty megahertz of unpaired bandwidth at 2155–2175 MHz to cellular providers:

Potential synergies exist between the AWS-3 band and spectrum currently allocated to federal use at 1.7 GHz. There are a number of countries that have allocated spectrum in the 1710-1780 MHz band for commercial use and devices already exist in the international market for that spectrum. Consequently, pairing the AWS-3 band with spectrum from the 1755-1780 MHz band has the potential to bring benefits of a global equipment ecosystem to this band.

Now, M2Z Networks is teaming up with County Executives of America, reports Ars Technica. If the association gets its requested $122 million in community infrastructure funds, it will partner with M2Z to roll out the service to 13 participating counties, their residents, and the respective regional public safety agencies. From there, the venture, if it wins funding, will extend free wireless across the nation, county by county.

But the only way that the NTIA’s broadband stimulus fund will fork over cash is if the FCC greenlights the use of that spectrum. That’s unlikely.

The FCC’s Broadband Plan indicates selling that spectrum to cellular operators would serve the “digital divide” better than “free” nationwide broadband service.

Here are the standard objections to the M2Z plan:

1. Doesn’t the M2Z proposal include a “family friendly” filter to block out smut?

Not any more. That was the original idea, but the concept took a huge hit from civil liberties, publishing, and Internet openness groups. Finally, former FCC Chair Kevin Martin, who first embraced the M2Z plan, announced in late 2008 that he had removed the family-friendly filter idea from the scheme.

So now the proposal is for an uncensored, open-device system.

2. Isn’t the FCC basically picking winners, losers, and business models here? Isn’t that inappropriate?

That was the protest you heard from various wireless companies back when the FCC first put this idea on the table. The complaint is starting to sound a little dated with the wireless industry’s major trade association calling for the Commission to help broker a massive transfer of spectrum from the television bands to mobile service companies. The FCC’s National Broadband Plan says it wants to do this via “incentive auctions.”

“This sharing of proceeds creates appropriate incentives for incumbents to cooperate with the FCC in reallocating their licensed spectrum to services that the market values more highly,” the NBP explains.

Let’s face it: regulators, in consultation with stakeholders, approve and perpetuate what amount to business models. The only time the latter complain is when they think it’s the wrong model.

3. The FCC’s proposal would facilitate an auction favoring one company: M2Z.

Yes, and it’s a legitimate concern. (Though see above re: business models. The FCC puts license conditions on auctions all the time, and it laid down some pretty strict business rules concerning openness during its last major auction.) 

4. Won’t this proposal interfere with neighboring bands?

In 2008, wireless companies that own spectrum around the AWS area insisted that the M2Z concept posed an interference threat. So the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology holed up around a Boeing plant in Seattle, Washington and tested the scheme for days. The OET concluded that these interference concerns could be handled. Having gotten the tests they asked for, big wireless turned around and declared that the OET was wrong.

License interference is a serious issue. But it’s getting a bit wearisome to watch wireless companies denounce OET decisions they don’t like while proclaiming their faith in the department in other interference fights, such as the feud between Sirius XM Radio and license holders in the Wireless Communications Service.

The evaluating and testing that everyone wanted is done. The OET should have the last word here…

Verizon’s CEO Ivan Seidenberg now says there’s plenty of spectrum after all. He thinks the FCC should butt out and let big business manage spectrum.

Verizon doesn’t want the competition.

Currently, only T-Mobile is using their AWS spectrum. SpectrumCo, the Cable group, paid $2.4 billion for 137 licenses in cities including New York, Boston, Washington, Detroit and Atlanta. It’s completely unused. AT&T and Verizon also bought billions in AWS spectrum but are NOT using it.

Scarcity pays. The big three cellular operators, like railroad barons of old, hope to monopolize the tracks. They will pay the government billions to insure their monopolies — even if that means their expensive spectrum goes unused.

In other news, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has indicated he wants to keep broadband services deregulated, according to the Washington Post, even as a federal court decision has exposed weaknesses in the agency’s ability to be a strong watchdog over the companies that provide access to the Web.

“Net neutrality could impose anywhere from $10 to as much as $55 each month on top of an average broadband access charge of $30,” claims Internet Innovation (pdf), a lobby group of telecom providers. “To the extent that consumers were unwilling or unable to incur such costs, net neutrality could, ironically, have the effect of actually reducing broadband penetration.”

Genachowski represents the swing vote on the five-member FCC, and he is expected to make public his decision on the issue by the end of the month.

Related DailyWireless stories include; Verizon: Spectrum Scarcity is Good, The National Broadband Plan, Battle of the Bands, Cellcos: One Thing – Bandwidth, AT&T Can’t Give Away Their Muni WiFi Net, FCC: Free Broadband at 2155-2180 MHz, Free Internet Access Proposed by FCC, FCC: 2150 MHz, No Problem, CellCos to Martin: Sit Down and Shut Up, FCC: Free Broadband at 2155-2180 MHz, MXtv Makes Its Move, Free 2155-2175 MHz!, The Free Triple Play, How to Fix Muni Wi-Fi, D-Block: It’s Done, Congress Pays, and AWS: It’s Done.

Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, May 3rd, 2010 at 8:13 am .

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