The misperception of open access

The misperception of open access
There seems to be a lot of misperception about what the Federal Communications Commission's recent "open access" rules for the upcoming 700 MHz auction really means for consumers. And much of the misperception is coming from the FCC itself.

Walter Piecyk, analyst with Pali Research, points out some of the misinterpretations of the commission's ruling last week, which set aside 22 MHz of spectrum for open access--that is open access defined as allowing any device or application to run on the network. (See the rundown of the rules here.) Piecyk singled out comments from FCC Chairman Martin who suggested that the new rules will lead to consumers being able to move phones from network to network. In reality, we all know that's not true given the fact that no existing devices will work on the 700 MHz band, and interoperability in the commercial world has always been stymied by technology choices. As Piecyk puts it: "Is the auction winner expected to build a CDMA/GSM/UMTS/iDEN/WiFi/WiMax/TD-SCDMA/CDMA Rev A/LTE/DECT network?"

Forbes ran an article telling us to imagine a new wireless future because of the FCC ruling, one in which we take a trip to the nearest Best Buy and find every single device in the store high-speed wireless enabled, with TVs ready to download content from the manufacturer over a broadband connection. That has more to do with economies of scale and participation from the consumer electronics industry than simply an open access requirement. It's also hard to believe given the clause in the FCC's ruling that operators are required to provide an open platform "subject to certain reasonable network management conditions that allow the licensee to protect the network from harm." What does "certain reasonable network management conditions" mean? As Piecyk correctly points out, Verizon's interpretation may just be any traffic greater than 8 kbps.

Now look at the chat discussions written by the average American. They think open access means free wireless service! That will be far from the truth given the fact that the FCC didn't require wholesale access to help drive prices down. Operators definitely want to position the mobile Internet as a premium service.

The mobile industry is a long way off from being that third pipe the FCC dreams of, and that reality should sink in shortly as open access advocates stop cheering and begin to dig down and try to interpret what the 700 MHz rules really mean in a wireless environment, especially when it comes to "reasonable network management conditions" and how open access requirements will really be enforced.--Lynnette