Your Airwaves, Your Voice
Published in the Huffington Post.
By John Kerry and Anna Eshoo
Our Congress is broken. And this week, the House Republicans will again show you how and why.
They will bring to the Floor for a vote, legislation that takes the American people's need to extend a middle class tax cut and turns it into a vehicle to hinder the ability of everyday people and entrepreneurs to access the public airwaves' unlimited potential as a platform for new wireless communications and services.
This is a time for America's netroots to speak up loudly and clearly.
Hidden in this week's Republican-backed legislation is a provision prohibiting the Federal Communications Commission from encouraging new entrants into the wireless market. It would close the door to new innovation by prohibiting access to our nation's best airwaves for unlicensed use, in a way similar to how Wi-Fi operates today but on a larger scale.
We have fought long and hard for open markets, open networks, and an open Internet to enable bottom-up innovation. And to date, that strategy has enabled America's entrepreneurs to lead a wireless revolution, creating millions of jobs and bolstering our struggling economy. But Republicans are countering with their anti-government and anti-regulation philosophy that will significantly strip the FCC of its public interest and competition authority and hinder our long-term growth. They espouse the virtues of free competition, but want to prohibit consideration of the long-term economic and consumer benefits of new unlicensed spectrum use, estimated by some to surpass $50 billion per year.
We want to resolve our differences. Republicans and Democrats both agree that we need to free up more of our airwaves for mobile broadband services. But leaving out tech innovators and failing to promote competition is the wrong way to do it.
The spectrum crunch is real. Every day, millions of Americans access mobile apps through their smartphones. Those devices send and receive 24 times more data than our old cellphones, and our Internet-enabled tablets, 122 times more data. A socially networked and location-aware app economy has made those tools a catalyst for broader economic activity, job creation, and democratic discourse. But as the volume of data traveling over our invisible infrastructure in the air grows, the space on it dedicated to broadband communications is getting clogged.
As we move to free up our airwaves for more mobile broadband innovation, we need to remember what made today's wireless lead possible – rules that encourage competition, lower barriers to entry, and open networks. We need to ensure that those ideals survive the attacks of entrenched special interests and that the sufficient space on the airwaves we release is set aside for our first responders to use. It's an absolute must that any legislation dealing with our nation's airwaves provides our police and firefighters with the resources they need to create and manage a nationwide, interoperable broadband communications network dedicated solely to their needs.
We already have some consensus – we agree on using voluntary incentive auctions as the mechanism to free up spectrum for new innovation in a way that is fair to broadcasters and other key stakeholders. Current holders of broadcast spectrum, such as TV broadcasters, would be able to offer up a portion of their airwaves for auction to mobile broadband service providers and in return receive a portion of the auction proceeds.
It is critically important, however, that as we release new airwaves for mobile broadband that our expert agency, the FCC, retains the ability to ensure that we do not create a wireless duopoly. The FCC also has to retain the ability to ensure that the companies which buy the right to operate in those airwaves do not use their position to deny the independent mobile app and wireless device economy an opportunity to flourish. It would be disastrous.
We need you to help us send that message to our colleagues in Congress – that competition and fairness are paramount.
We know and accept that a significant portion of the spectrum we release will go to auction to the big telephone companies, but some should go to new entrants and some should be set aside and open to all innovators, both large and small, for the creation of the next generation of unlicensed Wi-Fi devices that do not rely on the telephone companies for their development and deployment. Left free to innovate on this powerful platform – the very best airwaves we have – we fully expect that MIT and Stanford graduates working at tech startups and the future Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniacks of our country will deliver us the next frontier of devices that will make Wi-Fi look like child's play.
The Republican bill that's being voted on in the House fails to acknowledge these benefits. It explicitly denies the FCC the authority to keep any one or two companies from buying up all the assets we will auction and it enables them to do as they wish with it. This would also mean denying the FCC's ability to impose transparency or non-discrimination requirements on network providers. If this sounds familiar, it is. Just look at our fights to preserve a free and open Internet. Lastly, the House bill requires that all the airwaves cleared through an incentive auction be sold and that none of the best space be set aside for the kind of open innovation that could lead to a nationwide super Wi-Fi network. Congress should leave the choice over how best to allocate that spectrum between licensed and unlicensed operators to the expert agency. We lack the engineering or technological expertise to make that determination.
On public safety, the Republican House proposal grants public safety 10 megahertz of new spectrum for broadband-enabled video and data service, but forces them to give back 14 megahertz of their best spectrum that has already been deployed in 35 states. It's still unclear whether that trade is fair. At a minimum, we should allow public safety officials to offer up other space in the airwaves they hold to make up for the space that we are giving them.
Beyond the spectrum designated for public safety, the House bill encourages the development of fifty separate networks that would operate with each other instead of one nationwide network or regional networks which would be much more cost effective and rational. It also creates and empowers a private sector company to decide how the network is built and which applicants are awarded public funds. That is grossly irresponsible.
S.911, the legislation that passed the Senate committee was bipartisan. House Democrats offered up a similar proposal, H.R. 3509, but Republicans have refused to consider it. S.911 and H.R. 3509 leave room for innovation and competition. They do not prohibit the FCC from exercising its responsibilities to protect the public interest and preserve competition. And they do not punish public safety. They respect their right to participate in the operation and management of the network.
A negotiated compromise is possible and necessary and for our part, we are willing to work through the key differences to make it happen. We hope our Republican colleagues in the House are ready to do the same.