Chairman's 700 MHz plan sets off firestorm

FCC Commissioner Chairman Kevin Martin set off a firestorm of debate this week over his plans for the highly coveted 700 MHz band. The chairman's draft order, leaked earlier this week to key news outlets, would allow a level of open access on two 11-megahertz blocks in the 700 MHz band, but the licenses apparently won't be national or require the winning bidder to open its network up on a wholesale basis. In addition, Martin's proposal sets aside a separate national 10-megahertz block for bidding that would require the winning bidder to work with public safety on adjacent frequencies to improve first-responder communications.

But no one on either side of the "open access" debate is happy with the proposal. The mobile industry, of course, is vehemently opposed to open access, arguing the industry is already highly competitive. Those in favor of open access say the rule doesn't go far enough to allow truly open access. Google, Skype and others have been vocal champions of open access.

The debate moved into the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet yesterday. Everyone has been waiting for Verizon Wireless, which is expected to come out big in the 700 MHz auction, to weigh in on the issue. It did. Testifying before the committee yesterday, Steve Zipperstein, vice president and general counsel of Verizon Wireless, urged Congress to refuse calls for open access regulation, and to ensure a fair and open auction of the 700 MHz spectrum.

"The FCC, with Congressional oversight, should not be in the position of pre-determining or telegraphing auction winners. Reports of special rules for any company or segment of the high-tech industry that would tip the balance in their favor and circumvent a true auction are problematic. The so-called 'Google Block' with rules tailored to one company's goal leads in that direction. If these rules are unavoidable, the amount of spectrum allocated to this open access experiment should be minimal, in order to ensure that the true value of this national resource is not diminished," Verizon Wireless said in a press release. 

Ironically, Verizon Wireless, the operator most mobile content developers complain about when it comes to a walled-garden approach to content, pointed to Apple's iPhone, which only works on AT&T's EDGE network, as continuing to represent the walled-garden approach.

For more about the potential 700 MHz rules:
- read this article from RCR Wireless News 
- take a look at this PC World article