FCC and Wireless Broadband

As we’ve seen, the FCC is trying to decide what to do with some 700Mhz commercial spectrum. Now we hear that:
The upcoming auction of wireless spectrum in the 700MHz band presents an opportunity for wireless technology to be a third broadband pipe beyond just DSL and cable Internet, Martin said.

&mdash FCC chairman champions wireless broadband access, Upcoming spectrum auction viewed as opportunity, By Paul Krill, InfoWorld, May 03, 2007

FCC Chair Kevin Martin said this at Microsoft offices in Mountain View, CA. One has to wonder why he’s announcing a purported competition measure at the offices of the world’s most famous monopoly. But nevermind that.

Why does he care?

The FCC in bolstering broadband wants to ensure that network operators do not become the gatekeepers of innovation in the consumer space, he said.
Well, that’s good. Let’s see if he really means it; remember this is the same FCC that approved the AT&T and Bellsouth merger; the one with the highly dubious and time-limited net neutrality “concessions”.

What’s the holdup?

Responding to a moderator’s charge that the United States ranks 15th among industrial countries in broadband deployment, Martin said there are demographic challenges, such as having a population that is spread out. Martin said other countries have more densely populated areas that make it easier for them to hook up a larger segment of their populations.
That’s the same knee-jerk response I get every time I bring up that subject. If that were the real reason, we’d be seeing 100Mbps end-user broadband in Manhattan, and we’re not.

Still, wireless broadband is something. How’s the FCC handling it?

The FCC wants to have multiple wireless providers and make sure wireless is not just a complementary service offered by one of the existing providers, Martin said. Also, the commission has imposed strict build-out requirements to make sure that the spectrum is not acquired and then kept unused as an anticompetitive measure, he said.
So far so good.
A portion of the spectrum also is being reserved for wireless broadband for public safety purposes, such as enabling police communications, said Martin.
Maybe he listened to Reed Hundt.
There are no restrictions on the size of companies that can bid in the auction, although that has been suggested in a petition, Martin said. The FCC has not acted on the petition. Typically, the commission does not restrict the size of any company participating; what it does is try to break up some pieces into smaller blocks to give smaller providers a chance to compete, Martin said.
What the commission typically does has resulted in AT&T from sea to sea, so I’m not impressed by this tokenism.

It’s good the FCC is sort of promoting wireless broadband. It’s too bad the effort is halfhearted. And we need more and faster competition than that.