Google (keeps) pushing for open spectrum

August 19, 2008

Following up on its more industry-centric work in the Wireless Innovation Alliance, Google is heading up an effort to solicit signatures via a new site called Free the Airwaves intended to generate public pressure on the FCC to open up more wireless spectrum.

If the US is ever going to escape the current failed market duopoly for network service provision and carriage, efforts like this need to succeed.

Who opposes opening spectrum to increase competition, innovation, and access? Incumbent telecommunications firms with dominant market shares and well-entrenched advantages over their competitors.

Here’s the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) FUD-spewing website featuring “Wally the Unlicensed Wireless Device.”

Once you untangle the actual ideas from the pretty pictures and high-flown rhetoric, the NAB’s call to retain strict oligopolistic control over the airwaves is based on the underlying assumption that “networks need an owner” – some firm(s) to be accountable for its failure, maintenance, and improvement.

Problem is, the Internet as a whole has already de-bunked this half-baked argument. Well-designed and implemented protocols (or standards) can overcome the hypothetical tragedies of the networking commons. Governments and large private firms play a crucial role in preserving the Internet, but one of the reasons ithe Internet has spawned so much creativity, wealth, and participation is that the underlying protocols are basically device-agnostic (although U.S. ISP’s like Comcast are trying to undermine that too). The Internet does not care if you are using a desktop, laptop, PDA, etc or if you are sending an email, a chat message, voice data, pictures, music or movies.

Returning to the wireless spectrum case, though, it’s important to note that existing government concessions to large telecommunications firms in the U.S. have stifled broadband speeds and access as well as the growth of wireless communications as a whole.

This market needs more competition, not less. The sooner the FCC (and other firms in this market) can recognize that, the better.

Sign the petition or visit the site to take action.

(H/T JW, SS, and other Berkman Center Fellows)

Update: Check out Lessig’s video contribution to the Free the Airwaves campaign – he elaborates further on the idea that the history of innovation on the Internet provides a useful example for thinking about the future of spectrum.

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