updated 03:55 pm EDT, Tue July 31, 2007
FCC Approves Open 700MHz
The open access rules demanded by the FCC for the 700MHz spectrum have been largely approved in advance of the auction for the frequencies, the US broadcast agency announced on Tuesday. As proposed by the government body's chariman Kevin Martin, 22MHz of the 60MHz to be abandoned by analog broadcast TV in 2009 will require that any licensed operator allow any cellphone, notebook, or other device to operate on the spectrum. Operators will also have to allow any software to run on the network and therefore could not block VoIP or other services to artificially create business, the FCC noted. Many companies have expressed interest in the frequencies due to their exceptionally long ranges and penetration through walls, which could spur the development of faster, more reliable cellphone and mobile Internet access.
Opening part of the 700MHz range will also allow for a universal emergency network that should allow fire crews, hospitals, and police to collaborate together when indoors -- a problem during the World Trade Center attacks, when a lack of teamwork and interference from the buildings prevented rescue teams from understanding the full scope of the disaster in time to safely exit the collapsing structures.
However, the FCC simultaneously denied a condition backed by Google which would have required any licensees resulting from the auction to sell the rights to other companies at wholesale rates. The stipulation was intended to permit startups and other smaller companies to piggyback on larger companies' services without the threat of restrictive pricing or limited terms. Bidders will still be free to resell their part of the spectrum in bulk, but Google is no longer expected to place its suggested $4.6 billion bid that was dependent upon the wholesale terms.
AT&T and Verizon had at first directly opposed the open access concept but gradually relented with the belief that they could retain their existing subscription models that demand contracts. AT&T's multi-year agreement with Apple for the iPhone was nevertheless cited during a Congressional debate as an example of the problems created by allowing devices to be limited to individual company networks.