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FCC chair sides with GoYaSkypIntel in broadband wireless battle

Consumers rejoice, Verizon fumes

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Good news for smartphone users. Bad news for the big name wireless carriers. FCC chairman Kevin Martin has released suggested rules for an upcoming radio-spectrum auction that would allow consumers to attach any device and any application to U.S. broadband wireless networks - without approval from the likes of AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

With TV stations leaving the "700-MHz wireless band" in favor of digital transmission, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is set to auction off the vacated spectrum in early 2008, and Martin hopes to treat part of the spectrum like the anything-goes wired Internet, USA Today reports. "Whoever wins this spectrum has to provide...truly open broadband network - one that will open the door to a lot of innovative services for consumers," Martin told the paper.

Speaking with The Register, an FCC official said that Martin was correctly quoted in the USA Today story and confirmed that the chairman has released draft rules for the auction that would create 22MHz of "open-access" spectrum.

"The chairman has proposed conditions that would apply to the winner of one large piece of spectrum in the upcoming auction," the official explained. "And those conditions are that the winner must build a network that allows consumers to attach any device or run any applications they chose - provided they don't interfere with the next - even if the device is not supported by that particular carrier."

The rules must be approved by the other four FCC commissioners. A vote "could happen later this summer," the official says.

"The idea behind the chairman's proposals is that they will help increase broadband deployment and keep America competitive with the rest of the world," the official continued. "They will allow U.S consumers to use wireless broadband in much the same way they use wireline or cable networks."

Several big-name high-tech companies have been lobbying the FCC to apply open-access rules to at least part of the 700-MHz band, including Google, Yahoo!, Skype, and Intel. Citing "a person familiar with the company's thinking," Dow Jones Newswires reports that Google is actually considering a bid for the spectrum.

Meanwhile, Martin's move poses a threat to current wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless, who clearly prefer having a bit more control over the broadband wireless spectrum. During a Senate hearing in June, Dick Lynch, Verizon Wireless executive vice president and chief technical officer, openly opposed open-access rules. "The auction needs to make the spectrum available in ways that will promote, not cripple, broadband," he said. "The commission should set auction rules that allow for full and fair competition by qualified bidders, without artificial and unwarranted constraints."

Chairman Martin's draft rules apply open-access restrictions to a pair of 11MHz bands. The auction covers 60MHz of spectrum in total.®

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