Business, Cloud Computing

FCC chairman explains open mobile broadband

Wednesday, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was the opening keynote speaker at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment show in San Diego, California. The CTIA – The Wireless Association, was originally known as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association. It is an international industry trade group representing all wireless communication sectors including cellular, personal communication services, and enhanced specialized mobile radio.

After some preliminary remarks, including the fact he uses an Apple iPhone on AT&T’s network, Genachowski outlined the FCC’s Mobile Broadband Agenda to CTIA attendees. He told the group: "I saw mobile go from a futurist fantasy, to a nice-to-have part of company?s gameplan, to a must-have strategic priority." ? "You?ve turned clunky handsets into sleek and powerful mini-PCs. You?ve made the Internet mobile, freeing broadband from the desktop and making it possible to imagine a world where the Internet is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime ? as long as they?re not driving."

Building on his recently announced theme of Net Neutrality and open network standards for wired and wireless, Genachowski explained a comprehensive four part plan to support a 30 fold growth in wireless traffic. The four parts are:

  • Unleashing spectrum for 4G
  • Removing obstacles to a robust and ubiquitous 4G network (basically speeding up the deployment process for carriers)
  • An open Internet, with the rules and regulations previously announced
  • Empowering consumers by supporting a vibrant and transparent marketplace

These four new themes go along with Genachowski’s previously announced two new principals aimed at making the Internet more open to all applications and users. Wednesday?s item that has gotten positive attention from wireless carriers is putting 4G networks on a fast track. He said the FCC will soon act on a proposal by CTIA to impose a "shot clock" timetable for companies seeking permission to build cellular towers in local communities. He said that local communities dragging out negotiations on cell tower locations harms wireless providers’ ability to improve their networks.

Genachowski focused on growth: "The FCC in recent years has authorized a three-fold increase in commercial spectrum. The problem is many anticipate a 30-fold increase in wireless traffic." That means the FCC will have to reallocate radio spectrum from past uses, over to mobile wireless. The FCC’s auction earlier this year of mobile data frequencies in the 700MHz band allocated less than 100MHz of spectrum and took nearly ten years to complete from planning stages through the final bids.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs at the CTIA trade group, believes mobile operators will need 800MHz of additional spectrum in the next six years to support fast-growing demand for mobile data capacity. The CTIA would like that spectrum to be in bands between about 700MHz and 2.5GHz that are best suited to mobile services. To add this huge chunk of spectrum, the FCC will have to move much more rapidly than they did with the 700MHz auction.

The wireless providers have been unhappy with the concept of Net Neutrality. However, Genachowski said: "There shouldn’t be any confusion. I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve Internet openness, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook. I also believe the question of how we accomplish that goal, particularly in the wireless context, poses some difficult questions – questions that remain open and will be considered in the FCC’s proceeding."

Genachowski again explained he understood that the wireless providers need to be captains of their own ships and set their own course. He said the FCC?s goal is not to be heavy-handed with prescriptive regulation. Instead, their goal is to empower innovators, not lawyers – an interesting comment since Genachowski is also a Harvard-trained lawyer.

Genachowski said he understood that there will be differing standards for wired and wireless networks: "Mobile poses unique congestion issues, for example. Managing a wireless network isn’t the same as managing a fiber network, and what constitutes reasonable network management will appropriately reflect that difference."

Clearly today’s FCC leader, Julius Genachowski, has a different view of the FCC’s role than the Bush Administration’s Kevin Martin. We will have to wait and see how the new agendas make their ways through the thicket of required public comment, carrier objections, Congressional letters of interest and follow up hearings, as well as Judicial decisions. The final results will probably not be the same as the vision in the last two speeches by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski .