Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Carterfone Decision

It is only in the protractions of time that we realize the consequences of our actions. As we saw just days ago at the hands of FCC high mucketymuck Kevin "Bushpawn" Martin. In what can kindly be called an "interesting" re-application of the Carterfone decision, Kevy steers the course of history gently away from open access, whatever his cogent purpose may actually be. My hatred of the man is long been in evidence. I'll let The Scholars & Rogues Blog speak in his defense.

In recent months murmurs began about the fate of the white spaces. Broadcast television will switch to digital in 2009, and analog TV will cease to be. In that change, no matter how delayed or protracted and painful it may be, a large chunk of RF real estate will open up. The 700Mhz band is coveted by cell phone companies because it travels easier though walls than the currently used 2.5 GHz block. Cell phones could work indoors basically. Many parties are interested, nobody seemed to have any big ideas worth discussing here.. until Google spoke up 2 weeks ago. Google announced that they would bid $4.6 billion for a slice of the 700 MHz band to provide wireless Internet. But they attached a caveat. Access had to be open.
The policy they wish to see applied is the Carterfone decision. Blogs everwhere reference it but gloss over the event itself. It starts in 1959, Tomas Carter makes a radio phone that works with phone land lines and wireless. Ma Bell spazzes out and tells their customers they aren't allowed to use it, and if they do they will pay a penalty.

Carter, an obstinate Texan, stands up to the telephone giant and brings anti-trust proceedings against AT&T. The case is sent to the FCC. The FCC decides that the device is needed and does no harm to AT&T's existing infastructure. So in 1968 the FCC ruled that telephone networks could not forbid third-party devices to use their service. That the actions of AT&T were "unreasonable, unlawful and unreasonably discriminatory." In 1975 they expanded the idea, allowing consumers to attach any devices to a network, as long as they adhere to technical standards. More here.

But when Skype asked them to do the same thing with Voice over IP technology this Spring they hit pause. Approving that further broadens a policy that would never have been written under the current regime, yet it's the most applicable decision the commission has from which to make a decision. Google's idea of openness goes beyond even that, asking the FCC to require winning bidders to rent parts of their networks to competitors. That's not just hardware. compatibility. That's a tad bigger, but one that benefits consumers. Phone companies are claiming thsi will cause disruption and dange to their networks. yeah, that's what they said in 1959 too. It was a lie then, and a lie now.

Bidding begins in January 2008, an election year. Let the bribery begin!