House oversight hearing on the FCC

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin addressed the House subcommittee on telecommunications today along with his fellow commissioners. Martin explained that his proposal for the 700 MHz auction calls for a platform that is more open to devices and applications, and that consumers would be able to use the device of their choice and download what they want. Martin said, "My proposal, to be clear, is not for the entire 700 MHz band only about one third of it. There are no network neutrality orders, but only a requirement that allows for the fruits of innovation on the edges of the network to swiftly pass into the hands of the consumers." He said the reserve price of $4.6 billion is based on the winning bid of the most expensive portion of spectrum from the AWS auction.

FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said that "the most important opportunity for this auction, by far, is the opportunity to increase the safety of the people. My first preference by far would be a federally funded network for public safety, that not being possible at this time, we should go with a public-private shared network. But if that agreement is not sufficiently protective of the public safety interests, we should reject it. In this we cannot fail."

Regardless of what each commissioner felt was the more important opportunity of the auction--if they even had an opinion--a majority seemed to agree with Martin's proposal for an open access provision on a slice of the spectrum.

Rep. Ed Markey asked the commissioners whether or not they agreed with Martin's call for open access for any device for a part of the spectrum auctioned off. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein agreed with the proposal; Copps agreed it was ideal, but hinted it might be difficult to pull off; Commissioner Deborah Tate said she wished she had an opinion but did not, however, as a consumer she agreed; Commissioner Robert McDowell said he was still studying it as well but hoped the market could work it out without a government mandate.

Markey then said, "We had to wait 100 years until we could use anything but a black rotary phone in the home, and it didn't happen until Carterphone (in 1968)." McDowell responded that there are at least 10 WiFi-enabled phones already in circulation, but admits that "the walled garden approach is doomed to fail, just ask American Online."

Martin, Adelstein and Copps each said that they were confident that the open access provision would not translate into higher costs for consumers, while Tate said she hoped it would not and McDowell said he was not confident that it would not increase prices.

For more on the House hearing:
- see the Telecom Subcommittee's homepage