My Q&A With Steve Largent, Wireless's Top Lobbyist on Net Neutrality
The wireless industry is being picked apart these days, having to explain to federal regulators such practices as exclusive handset deals and whether it's competitive enough as carriers have consolidated in recent years. Now, it is pushing hardest against net neutrality at the Federal Communications Commission, ramping up its lobbying effort to prevent rules that would prevent AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile from deciding what you do with your cellphone.
Here's my edited Q&A with Steve Largent, CEO of the wireless association CTIA, on net neutrality:
You've said that regulation isn't necessary and that moves by AT&T on VoiP for the iPhone and Verizon's partnership with Google on Android show the market can take care of itself and is moving toward more openness. Others would argue that without new rules looming at the FCC, you wouldn't have seen AT&T and Google make those moves. Would you agree?
CTIA and our members have always said that we believe that the best regulator of a competitive industry is the consumer. If consumers don’t like something, they’ll tell us. This is the mark of a highly competitive industry. As AT&T said in their statement when they announced their decision about VoIP, they heard from their customers and this is what they wanted. The same is true for Verizon's announcement.
Where do you think Google Voice fits in the world of wireless applications? Is it a VoIP service in your mind or otherwise? Do you agree with lawmakers and AT&T calling for an investigation into the service and possible rural call blocking violations?
I think you raise some very good questions that should be looked into by the FCC. I think this issue highlights how expansive the wireless ecosystem has become, expanding well beyond just carriers to include infrastructure providers and handset makers as well as operating systems companies and applications developers like Google. This complicates the entire existing regulatory structure, as well as future application of any regulations, including net neutrality rules.
You've called for 800 mhz spectrum for commercial use. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in speech at CTIA that you're preaching to the choir when it comes to the need for more spectrum. But he fell short of saying how much he thinks needs to be unleased for commercial licensed use and how much for unlicensed uses like WiFi and white spaces. What do you think is an appropriate way for FCC to think of spectrum policy?
We are confident that [Genachowski] will drive a forward-thinking spectrum policy. We knew this would be a great opportunity for us to show him first-hand the current and potential uses of wireless products and services – in such areas as health care, energy and transportation. This is an impressive and inspiring industry that despite the current economic conditions, is making a tremendous impact – both financially and socially – in our country and the world. As the chairman has said countless times, the FCC is a data-driven agency. That’s why we filed our spectrum paper [GN Docket No. 09-51] where we called for at least 800 MHz of spectrum. This number comes directly from an ITU study that said what a developed country would need by 2015.
So AT&T announced yesterday that it would invest some $38 billion in wired and wireless networks over the next two years. That is while net neutrality rules are on the horizon. What does that say for the argument that such regulations could hamper investment?
I think you have to talk to AT&T about the specific impact that net neutrality would have on investment. But I also would go back to one of my previous answers which is that the industry is very competitive and that to stay in the mix, you need to update and innovate, that is why you see so much investment.
What parts of Genachowski's proposal do you have most difficulty with? The reasonable network management part? Transparency? How about ability to attach any device? Explain please.
Again, the chairman has said that the FCC is data-driven and so we believe this is an opportunity for us to tell him our great wireless industry story which is based on research from well-respected third party organizations, and to explain our concerns with regulation. We also have the opportunity to detail how much has happened in the industry in the last 18 months. Memorializing these rules during this evolutionary, and revolutionary, period concerns us. You’ve seen us submit numerous filings to the FCC in the last few months and we plan to continue to do so. In regards to net neutrality, we believe that wireless and wireline are different, but until we see the NPRM which is to be released later this month at the FCC’s Open Meeting, I don’t want to speculate. I will say though that we believe that no prescriptive regulation in this area is necessary to facilitate the continued evolution and innovation of wireless broadband services.
October 9, 2009; 11:54 AM ET
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