Members of the Congress on Thursday came out for "open access" during a Senate hearing on the auction of the "700 megahertz band."
While rules governing this valuable slice of spectrum are complex, the issue captured the attention of more than a quarter-million Americans who last week called on the FCC to use these airwaves to create more open, neutral and affordable Internet access.
Opening the Airwaves Now a Public Concern
The FCC's Choice
Today's Commerce Committee hearing provided hopeful evidence of a shift towards more transparency and accountability. During the hearing, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stated, "open access proposals and innovative bidding rules must be closely considered" before the FCC sets rules that will guide the sell off of our airwaves.
>> Read Sen. Kerry's guest blog post at SavetheInternet.com
The FCC faces a critical choice for the future of the Internet. The auction is a chance to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet. The current business model – a marketplace dominated by cable and phone companies -- has failed. We need open networks to better foster new entrants and innovation while driving down costs to consumers.
The 700 MHz band could beam high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace and home in America. Cable and phone companies would rather the FCC allows then to rig the spectrum auction so that they can scoop up licenses and continue to dominate Internet access.
Why Verizon Wants Closed Access
Verizon executive vice president Dick Lynch attempted to scare Senators off the idea, telling them today that "saddling the auction with open access and Net Neutrality obligations would reduce interest" among businesses interested in leasing our airwaves.
His concerns are clear if not directly stated. The only ones who stand to lose from opening the network to new competitors are phone and cable companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast -- the same companies, by the way, that exert near monopoly control over access for more than 96 percent of residential broadband users.
"Open access" principles make the network available on a wholesale basis to new entrants, services and applications. We would all benefit from a marketplace that is freed of gatekeeper controls.
>> For more on how gatekeepers stifle innovation, read Dr. Amol Sarva's Senate testimony
The Momentum Shift
At the hearing today, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) called the auction a "revolution of the communications landscape." Sen. Kerry's statements followed his editorial yesterday in The Hill urging the FCC to "establish auction rules that maximize the likelihood of innovation and ease competitive entry."
Last month, presidential candidate John Edwards called on the FCC to "seize the chance to transform the Internet and the future" by requiring that half of the soon-to-be-available public airwaves be reserved for open access.
And last week, a group of more than 40 leading technologists, wireless innovators, civic organizations and others sent a joint letter to the FCC calling for a sizable portion of the airwaves to be licensed on an "open access" basis to usher more competition into the marketplace.
Members of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition -- including Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Free Press -- have also urged the FCC to ensure that the upcoming auction sets aside at least half of the available spectrum for "open networks." Last week, more than 250,000 members of MoveOn.org Civic Action, Free Press and Working Assets Wireless, alongside other concerned citizens, contacted the FCC with similar concerns.
In the midst of all the details, lobbying and testimony, we can't lose sight of why this auction matters. This may be our best opportunity to ensure universal, affordable Internet for everyone.