Democratise Telecoms!

Could it be that the land of the free might permit its citizens to access a telecommunications service operating in unlicensed spectrum, using any access device they like?

Sounds unlikely. Everyone knows you have to pay the US authorities millions, if not billions, of dollars for telecommunications spectrum, and that those who buy it, can then tie their customers into exclusively using the services and access devices which they provide and approve, unless the customers pay substantial charges to change carriers. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way, if the incumbent wireless operators get their way, it will always be. But hold on. Here’s a gallant group called the ‘Coalition for 4G in America’ led by Google, and including Intel, Yahoo and eBay, who are pushing the US FCC to set aside some of the soon-to-be-auctioned 700MHz spectrum for open public access by any type of device. “None of us like how the current system locks you into wireless service plans that limit the kind of phone or PDA you can use, prevent you from downloading and using the software of your choice, and charge you hefty termination fees if you try to get out,” says Richard Whitt, Google’s Washington telecoms and media counsel, “and it’s hard to ignore how the existing wireless carriers talk a good game about the virtues of the free market, but prefer to keep us stuck in their closed market.” Sounds like a good egg, this Mr Whitt. There are enlightened lawyers around. . E-bay, which owns Skype, and Google, which has been buying dark fibre across the planet, could be a formidable force in telecoms. If they get the go-ahead from the FCC to provide free-at-the-point-of-access broadband via Wimax, they could transform the telecommunications industry. God knows the US wireless networks, which are spotty and flaky beyond belief, need transformation, but it would also be a powerful signal to the rest of the world’s governments how to run telecommunications policy. Come on you FCC guys: Democratise telecoms!

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