Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Wireless rules may change with upcoming auction of the 700 MHz spectrum

NEW YORK — Coming soon could be a wireless broadband world in which consumers get to pick any smartphone or other device and load any software on it — not have to take what the wireless carrier wants to sell.

That's the goal of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, who will propose sweeping new rules for wireless airwaves the government is auctioning early next year. The 700 MHz spectrum, being vacated by TV stations as they go digital, is coveted for its ability to penetrate walls and other obstacles.

Under Martin's proposal, to be circulated in the agency as early as Tuesday, mobile services in these airwaves would have to allow consumer choice.

"Whoever wins this spectrum has to provide … truly open broadband network — one that will open the door to a lot of innovative services for consumers," Martin said in an interview Monday.

What this would mean in practice: "You can use any wireless device and download any mobile broadband application, with no restrictions," Martin explained. The only exceptions would be software that is illegal or could harm a network.

The proposed rules would apply only to the spectrum being auctioned, not the rest of the wireless business, which still makes most of its revenue from voice calls. But Martin's proposal, if adopted by the FCC, could reverberate through a U.S. wireless industry that has tightly controlled access to devices and services. The Apple iPhone is a prime example: Like most devices sold in the USA, the iPhone is, in industry parlance, "locked." It allows only features and applications that Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T) provide and works only with an AT&T contract.


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