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FCC Chair Opens Up On Wireless

Kim Hart

Federal Communications Commission chief Kevin Martin just finished a discussion with Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, about his policy priorities for the coming year.

Martin spent a lot of time stressing the importance of wireless technologies, especially since the auction of valuable 700 megahertz spectrum will begin in a couple of weeks. He said the commission has taken steps to free up more spectrum so that it can be used more efficiently. And he mentioned the trend toward "openness" on cellular networks. Google and consumer advocates had successfully lobbied that the wireless airwaves be used to build a network open to any device and application.

Martin said he was pleased other wireless giants are making their current networks more open as well. Verizon Wireless said it will take steps to let consumers use any phone they choose on its network by the end of the year. AT&T has emphasized some of its policies that give consumers control over the phones and features they use.

"You've got this whole mantra of openness," he said. "The fact that everyone wants to talk about it is a good sign that companies recognize that's what consumers want."

No real news came out of the session, which was cut short so he could catch a flight back to the East Coast. He used the stage as an opportunity to push a la carte pricing for cable. He also said he is in favor of revamping the commission's measurement tools for broadband deployment. Some have argued the FCC's standards for high-speed Internet are too low and give a distorted picture of how many people actually have access to the service.

"High speed is no longer 200 kilobits going in one direction," he said, pointing to much faster services now offered by phone and cable companies like AT&T and Comcast.

Shapiro asked Martin whether the commission would take action against Internet service providers that have been accused of interfering with traffic on its network. Comcast has recently been criticized for slowing down some traffic between peer-to-peer sharing sites like BitTorrent.

Martin said that basic principles are already in place to keep consumers from being blocked or certain sites from being discriminated against. But he said carriers need to be able to structure tiers to offer advanced services. He argued that the real debate is over what "non-discrimination" actually means.

He also said he would not push back the Feb. 17, 2009 cut-off date for analog TV signals. There has been some speculation that the deadline to move to all-digital programs could be delayed because the public isn't ready for the switch. But Martin said the "hard date" is crucial to the commission's efforts to sell licenses to a portion of those airwaves for wireless services. Delaying the switch could discourage companies from participating in the high-stakes auction.

By Kim Hart  |  January 8, 2008; 6:05 PM ET  | Category:  CES 2008 , Kim Hart
Previous: Writers Guild Hits CES; CES Hits Back | Next: Public Interest Groups React to FCC Chair's Speech

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