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Here in Washington, a classic way to get a bad policy passed is to attach it to the back of some unrelated “must pass” piece of legislation. Attaching one bad idea to a bill is sneaky. Attaching two bad ideas is bold. Attaching three? Well, that’s what we have with a trio of horrible wireless ideas that some people in Congress are trying to attach to the upcoming Payroll Tax bill.
It is almost as if the proponents of these additions took a few years’ worth of ideas that will make wireless worse, wrapped them up in a bundle, and glued them to the underside of a bill that – if it does not pass – will raise taxes for millions of Americans. In this case, these conditions would apply to spectrum freed up by the transition to digital TV broadcasting, and would impact some of the most useful spectrum to become available for years. What are these conditions?
No Net Neutrality Protections. Forget your feelings about the FCC’s formal Open Internet Rules. An amendment by Rep. Marsha Blackburn would prevent any restrictions on network management, block any requirements to make connectivity available on a wholesale basis (which would increase competition), and stop the FCC from passing a rule allowing users to attach any non-harmful device to the network. As a result, the winner of the spectrum auction would be able to throttle, block, and discriminate however it sees fit – something that runs counter to any definition of network neutrality.
No Safeguards Against Further Consolidation. It is no secret that one of the reasons that there are only four nationwide wireless carriers (and two dominant ones) is that only a few companies control most of the available spectrum in the United States. This amendment would prevent the FCC from making sure that new spectrum goes towards new or under-provisioned competitors instead of being further consolidated by AT&T and Verizon. That’s probably why AT&T is pushing so hard for this amendment.
No Super-Wifi. One of the greatest boons of the transition from analog to digital TV broadcasting was supposed to be the creation of unlicensed “whitespaces” or “super-wifi.” This new spectrum – which is much better at communicating long distances and through walls than current wifi spectrum – would be used cooperatively by everyone and usher in a new era of wireless devices. However, a third amendment would destroy the FCC’s power to allocate some of this great spectrum for unlicensed uses. That means that opportunity would simply pass us by.
If this package is attached to the must-pass Payroll Tax bill, it will undermine wireless development for years. The FCC will be unable to apply any of these pro-consumer and pro-competition provisions when it auctions off this newly cleared spectrum. As such, this package promises a wireless future that is more consolidated, more expensive, and less open. That’s why we are fighting so hard to make sure that these three horrible ideas say out of legislation.