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FCC's Martin Backs Open Access For Some Spectrum

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is proposing putting open access requirements on some of the spectrum being reclaimed from analog broadcasters and auctioned for advanced services.

 In a USA Today article Tuesday he spoke of a "truly open broadband network" on which you could use "any wireless device and download any mobile broadband application with no restrictions" save for devices that were illegal or could harm a network.

An FCC source confirmed that the chairman was proposing making a 22 mHz block of spectrum open to access by all devices and applications. Frontline Wireless has called for open access rules for the auctioned spectrum as part of its plan to create a public-private network that could be used by first responders, but the source said Martin’s proposal was not related to that effort.

Wireless networks like AT&T and Verizon bundle their services and devices, a policy that Martin suggested has hampered innovation. That bundling policy was put in the spotlight last week with the five-year contract with AT&T required of all iPhone users.

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey, a big backer of open access, liked what he heard from Martin.

"It appears that Chairman Martin is poised to propose that certain auction winners should be required to permit unaffiliated content providers to offer services and applications to wireless consumers and for manufacturers to innovate and offer cutting-edge wireless devices in the marketplace for consumers to use with their service, " he said in a statement. "While details are not yet available regarding the specific proposals he plans to make to his FCC colleagues, I commend Chairman Martin for his recent statements, which recognize that the wireless marketplace is insufficiently competitive and innovative today due to current market structures and practice."

 A source said that the access requirements are not the equivalent of network neutrality, since the networks would still be able to manage its traffic and access speeds. But it will prevent a network from requiring subscribers use its equipment.

 The spectrum would not be sold with a requirement that it any of it be resold wholesale. That left the proposal far short of pleasing Art Brodsky, Communications Director at Public Knowledge, which has been pushing for open access.

"That's because the definition of open access that Martin is using is far different from what everyone else is using," he said in reaction to the reports that Martin was floating the proposal.

 "The public-interest community and the high-tech companies see 'open access' as requiring the winners of the spectrum auction to offer a slice of the space on a wholesale basis with no rules on what types of services or equipment could be offered. That's a far cry even from loosened rules on a new slice of spectrum owned by existing companies."