Share and Share Alike

I am no fan of “not in my backyard” protectionism, so if that was what was prompting cable operators to call for Federal Communications Commission oversight of new unlicensed wireless proposals (see Rules), you can count me out.

But cable Internet-service providers represented by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have unusual allies in public-interest groups Common Cause, Free Press and Public Knowledge, who agree the FCC needs to keep a close eye on the technology.

If past is prologue, none of those groups are in this to help protect cable ISPs like Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

Instead, the idea is to make sure that the wireless telcos’ interest in getting deeper into the data offload space does not trample the existing service on its way to the competitive stomping grounds.

If, as advocates of LTE-Unlicensed and “license assisted” (LAA) regimes assert, the services can co-exist peacefully and wireless operators are not angling for a leg up at the expense of existing players, then they should be allowed to compete. But that should be established before the service is allowed to share the spectrum.

The FCC certainly has precedent for looking before it takes some of the exciting technological leaps it has been advocating in its push for more broadband competition.

For example, there’s the 5-Gigahertz band, where the FCC has said it would not make additional unlicensed WiFi spectrum available to those same cable ISPs until it has made sure that WiFi will not interfere with vehicle-to-vehicle communications already operating within the band. Cable operators have said that they, too, can peacefully coexist, but the FCC is ensuring that is the case.

Maybe cable operators and wireless providers are both right about being able to share and share alike. But if the FCC is going to take the trust-but-verify approach to WiFi/vehicle-to-vehicle spectrum sharing, it should do the same for LTE-U/LAA.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.