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AT&T, Verizon poised to fight FCC's net neutrality stance on the wireless front

Chris Ziegler
09.22.09
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Verizon and AT&T, the States' number one and number two wireless carriers by subscriber count respectively, share a common bond in that they both have deep ties to the Bell System of old and have ended up running huge wireline broadband and legacy telephone businesses. That means they're liable to end up sharing a lot of common interests like candlelit dinners, walks on the beach, and a general agreement with the FCC's Julius Genachowski on new net neutrality legislation -- for wired broadband, anyhow. Both companies' wireless divisions are expressing concern that the proposed rules would apply to ISPs regardless of medium, and the argument is that while landlines (and the accompanying bandwidth) are a theoretically limitless resource, wireless bandwidth is ultimately limited by available spectrum no matter how advanced the underlying technology may be -- and if the carriers don't have authority to clamp down on certain types of heavy use, everyone loses. Though every bone in our body is telling us to vehemently disagree with the argument, they're right on the point that wireless capacity doesn't flow from an everlasting font of spectrum, and it's got to be managed. Thing is, "managed" doesn't necessarily mean "restrict." Here are the options we see at a quick glance:

  • Lobby the FCC to aggressively search for and free up additional spectrum that can be safely re-purposed. The CTIA's already pursuing this angle, so it'll be interesting to see what becomes of it.
  • Before raising hell, AT&T and Verizon should both consider completing their moves to LTE and coming within a stone's throw of tapping out their current spectrum allocations. Both carriers own swaths of 700MHz bandwidth that they haven't yet capitalized on, and AT&T is actively freeing up 1900MHz by moving a number of markets to 850 for 3G.
  • As with everything else in a free economy, the market should decide wireless data pricing. It's a limited resource and it's in demand -- as long as the appropriate regulatory bodies are keeping a close eye on anti-competitive practices (which it seems they're looking to do a better job of), simply charge a fair market rate for usage rather than discriminating by application. We've got a long way to go from the virtually identical pricing structures and limited options that national carriers offer today.
See, guys? Lots of options here without waging a fight that goes against the popular (and largely correct) side of a hot-button topic.

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