FCC's Baker skeptical of net neutrality for wireless

FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker said she does not know how new, proposed neutrality rules could be applied to wireless networks--and hinted that the rules may be unnecessary in the first place.

Baker, one of two Republican commissioners on the five-member FCC panel, said she is concerned about possible unintended consequences of the new rules, which are intended for both wireless and wireline telecom companies. Initial comments on the draft rules are due Jan. 14.

"I'm not convinced we have a problem we need to address," she said in an interview during a taping of a C-SPAN show. Baker was formerly the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Commerce Department during the Bush administration.

"As we go forward, I'm actually not clear how we could impose network neutrality rules on wireless networks," she said. "I think we'll leave it to engineers as we move forward to see how we can actually do that. What we don't want to do here, especially in the course of developing a national broadband plan, is to do anything that would harm the innovation and investment in these networks."

Baker's comments dovetail with net neutrality concerns voiced by a number of wireless players, including No. 2 wireless carrier AT&T Mobility and wireless trade group CTIA. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has made clear his intentions to impose net neutrality guidelines on both wireless and wireline carriers, and his fellow Democrats on the commission have largely been supportive of his actions. If the FCC passes net neutrality rules for wireless, it would represent a major policy shift for the nation's wireless industry.

In the interview, Baker also delved into an issue that has become the subject of contentious lobbying: Whether, as part of the FCC's national broadband plan, broadcasters' spectrum will be taken away and reallocated for wireless broadband use. "I don't expect we'd take all the broadcasters' spectrum, but I suspect that there might be some in there that might be more efficiently used in a commercial wireless sense," she said. "All ideas should be on the table."

The wireless industry, citing dramatic increases in demand for mobile data, has argued that additional spectrum be made available for auction for wireless broadband use--and various members of the FCC, including Genachowski, have hinted that broadcasters' spectrum may be raided for that purpose. Unsurprisingly, broadcasters have mounted a major lobbying effort in defense of their spectrum.

For more:
- see this The Hill article

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