Yesterday, Verizon CTO Tony Melone criticized the FCC’s pace when it comes to freeing up much-needed spectrum for wireless. As CNet’s Marquerite Reardon reports:
Melone said the FCC needs to speed up the process for approving spectrum sales and license transfers in the secondary market. He used his company’s own bid to buy wireless spectrum from a consortium of cable companies—collectively known as SpectrumCo—as an example. In December, Verizon promised to pay $3.6 billion for nearly 20 MHz of wireless spectrum in the AWS band.
The FCC and Department of Justice are reviewing the transaction, which also includes a co-marketing deal, which some critics say is anti-competitive. The agencies have been reviewing the deal since December when it was announced and are expected to finish up their inquiry by the end of July.
Melone said that he thinks the process, which is expected to take a little over six months, is too long. And he said it’s a barrier to getting unused wireless spectrum into companies that can put it into use. And he criticized the agency for taking too long to evaluate the transaction.
Given the increasing demand for mobile broadband — and the FCC’s own warnings that we will soon be hitting a “spectrum crunch” — it’s easy to see why Melone and other wireless providers are frustrated with the slow pace of the Commission’s process.
Over at Broadcasting & Cable, John Eggerton examines a new survey from Cox and the National Center for Mission and Exploited Children on smartphones and kids:
The Tween Internet Safety Survey study… found that 95% of kids use their phones and game consoles to surf the Web. While 68% of parents said they monitored their kid’s Internet behavior on mobile devices, only 17% said they used parental control features on smartphones.
In an important post for The Hill‘s Congress Blog, Axel Leblois, Executive Director of the Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs (G3ict), highlights how critical wireless devices like smartphones and tablets are for people with disabilities — and how it’s just as critical that more spectrum to be made available:
If we want to see further advancements in mobile accessibility technologies, we must continue to promote the development of a healthy mobile ecosystem. Encouraging continued private sector investment in wireless network infrastructure is vital and will require swift and decisive government action. Our government, which allocates the airwaves, must find more for commercial use. Such a move will allow wireless carriers to continue expanding and enhancing our wireless networks, ensuring a wireless infrastructure that will enable accessibility innovation to continue to aid Americans with disabilities. And by acting quickly to remove this barrier to growth, our government can enable faster development of these and other technological innovations.
Via Kevin Fitchard of GigaOm, a new report from Ericsson predicts a big leap when it comes to mobile broadband access worldwide:
It took 12 years for 3G technologies to touch half of the world’s population, but getting to 85 percent coverage will only take another five, according to wireless infrastructure vendor Ericsson. New HSPA+ and LTE network deployments will lead to a near blanketing of the world’s populated areas with mobile broadband by 2017.
Speaking of spectrum, over at Fierce Wireless Philip Goldstein is encouraged by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s suggestion of sharing some of the government’s airwaves with wireless providers, but cautions it won’t be an easy move:
As with many things that get talked about in Washington though, spectrum sharing—specifically between government entities and commercial carriers—is more conjecture at this point than anything else. It will take years to make such sharing a reality, and the biggest hurdles will not be technical but more basic elements like how much spectrum government agencies—especially the Department of Defense—will be willing to give up. In order to get both sides on the same page to make spectrum sharing a reality, there is going to have to be significant and consistent socialization of both government spectrum administrators and the wireless industry.
The U.S… seems sluggish (at best) in encouraging the next wave of growth. The government still owns around 60% of the best spectrum, leaving just around 10% for mobile operators. The U.S. lags many nations in current spectrum availability and lags almost every advanced economy in its “pipeline” of spectrum expected to become available in the near future.
Last winter Congress approved auctions to encourage over-the-air TV broadcasters to transfer underused spectrum to more valuable modern services, such as mobile data networks. But in the best of circumstances, these auctions will take years. And even assuming the auctions are successful, the U.S. pipeline will still lag.
If, on top of these shortcomings, you add an effective government halt to any secondary market spectrum transactions, you have real paralysis.
Earlier today, a privately funded spacecraft docked with the International Space Station for the first time. As Bloomberg’s Brendan McGarry reports:
Closely held SpaceX, controlled by billionaire Elon Musk, connected its unmanned Dragon capsule to the station at 12:02 p.m. New York time, according to Kyle Herring, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is the first company to accomplish the feat.
“This is truly a momentous accomplishment for SpaceX and for the industry,” Michael Lopez-Alegria, president of the Washington-based Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said in a statement. The country is on its way to having a cost-effective space transportation system, he said, and SpaceX should be thanked for “restoring U.S. access to the space station.”
That’s pretty awesome, and shines a light on just how powerful private investment can be when it comes to innovation and moving America forward — a message not lost on the White House. As the Associated Press reports (via FoxNews):
The White House quickly offered congratulations.
“Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting,” said John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser. “This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best — tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit.”
As competition between private companies helps further America’s reach into the stars, it’s worth remembering competition and private investment are having an equally important effect here on the ground. With broadband — especially mobile broadband — driving our new digital economy, ensuring private companies continue to compete and invest to build out increasingly powerful networks will be critical.
Remember, President Obama has set the goal of connecting everyone to mobile broadband. Just as the private sector will make it possible for NASA to set their sites on Mars, private companies can achieve the President’s goal and allow the government to focus its attentions and resources on other matters critical for America’s future.
As Verizon’s $3.6 billion proposal to purchase spectrum from various cable companies continues to be examined by both the FCC and the Justice Department, The Hill‘s Andrew Feinberg reports Sen. Heb Kohl, head of the antitrust subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee, wants the deal to be run through with a fine-toothed comb:
In a letter addressed to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Attorney General Eric Holder, Kohl makes clear that he’s not prejudging the deals to be unlawful under the Communications Act or antitrust laws. But he also makes clear that he believes the transactions should be “examined closely” because they present “serious competition concerns.”
This morning, Irving Information Group President & CEO Larry Irving (who was also a founder and former Co-Chair of IIA) delivered the keynote for the New America Foundation‘s event in Washington, DC, “From Broadcast to Broadband: New Theories of the Public Interest in Wireless.” It was a lively discussion (and it carried over to Twitter as well; just do a search for the hashtag #bcast2bb).
Irving kicked things off by telling attendees that this year alone people will be buying 100 million tablets, and that 88 percent of people now have a mobile device. He then touched on what that means for society, especially for voices that have in the past struggled to be heard:
We have never had more diverse voices across all segments of media. The net removes the barriers to entry, for the most part. There is 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, and 20 to 30 of the top 50 stations on YouTube are minority generated or focused. And the audience is disproportionately young people.
But after laying out the positives of our new media landscape, Irving pivoted to the biggest challenge to the continued growth of mobile broadband:
One huge impediment is looming spectrum scarcity. Everything we’ve talked about has always been about scarcity. The laws of physics of building out infrastructure mean we are going to hit a crunch. There was a 230 percent increase in mobile data use last year. Smartphones use nine times more bandwidth than feature phones. And tablets use three times that of smartphones.
While Irving was encouraged by current efforts to free up more spectrum for wireless, he was discouraged by how slow the process has been (“A ten year span to get 500 MHz? We need to speed that up!”), and argued the problem of the spectrum crunch should receive attention from a higher national authority:
It’s going to require the White House — not through weak comment, but through actual action.
The New America Foundation’s event was streamed, so hopefully the archive will be up soon. In the meantime, you can learn more here.
In an opinion piece for Politico, CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent makes the case that more spectrum for wireless will mean an explosion of innovation:
The world leadership we claim has been built over time, and today the U.S. is home to more than 69 percent of the global LTE subscribers, even though we have less than 5 percent of the world’s population and less than 6 percent of the world’s wireless subscribers.
Some of the most advanced wireless devices were launched first in the U.S., including Apple’s iPhones and iPads, Samsung’s Galaxys, Motorola’s Droids and HTC’s EVO 4G. In addition, Americans may choose from more than 630 unique devices while, by comparison, those in the United Kingdom have fewer than 150 choices. But all this is at risk if the industry is allowed to become even more spectrum constrained.
In response to Largent’s piece, our own Bruce Mehlman left this comment:
American consumers are benefiting from increasingly robust nationwide wireless data services including mobile apps, real-time social media and streaming video. With new wireless subscribers signing up every day and more and more spectrum hungry services snacking on the available airwaves, of course there is less spectrum to go around. Saying that the spectrum crisis isn’t real is an excuse for inaction.
Today, there are more wireless subscriptions than people in the U.S. That’s just one of the facts we reveal in the first of a series of Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) info graphics available in English and Spanish. If you have a “work” mobile phone plus a “personal” device, you’re part of that trend. Here’s another shocker: by the end of 2012, there will be more wireless subscriptions than people on the planet. This ever-growing increase in demand is great news for developers who are creating new apps, and for entrepreneurs who are connecting to the global marketplace and growing their businesses.
In a must-read article for Bloomberg, Larry Downes argues the FCC — despite its good intentions — is getting in the way of freeing much-needed spectrum for wireless:
Speaking the week of May 7 at the annual meeting of the mobile trade group CTIA-The Wireless Association, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski had to acknowledge the sad truth that “the overall amount of spectrum available has not changed, except for steps we’re taking to add new spectrum on the market.”
Those “steps,” however, only promise spectrum sometime in the vague future. For now, the two agencies have put almost no new spectrum into actual use. Instead, the agencies have piled up a depressing list of delays, scandals, and wasted opportunities.
Later in the piece, Downes calls for a major overhaul of how spectrum is managed by the government:
Saving the mobile ecosystem—and making way for the next generation of mobile innovation—demands a bold new strategy. For starters, it is time to stage an intervention for federal agencies hoarding spectrum. Private licensees who no longer need the spectrum they have must be able to sell their rights quickly in a working market and be prodded, when necessary, to do so. Buyers need the freedom to repurpose spectrum to new uses.
Also, we need to increase incentives for network operators to continue investing in better and more efficient infrastructure, not throw cold water on them in the name of a vague and largely undefined public interest. The number of competitors isn’t what matters. It’s the ability of consumers to get what they want at prices that, at least up until now, continue to decline.
Nielsen has published the results on a new survey on smartphones and mobile apps, and it’s no surprise that the top apps are still Facebook and YouTube. As for the number of apps people are installing on their devices:
In just a year, the average number of apps per smartphone has jumped 28 percent, from 32 apps to 41.
Interestingly, while the number of apps have increased, the time spent inside apps has only increased 10%, from an average of 37 minutes last year to 39 minutes today.
Via Brendan Sasso of The Hill, the Commerce Department is moving forward with a planned national public safety network:
The Commerce Department agency responsible for the government’s use of the airwaves will ask for comments on a planned nationwide public-safety broadband network.
Larry Strickling, the administrator of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), announced the request for information Monday in a speech at the National Broadband Summit and Expo.
The agency will ask for input on the distribution of $135 million in grants for state and local governments to plan the deployment of the network.
It’s going to be a big week for Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. First up is his birthday, which is today. Then later in the week, Facebook’s IPO, which is expected to be massive. But as Alistair Barr of Reuters reports, the 27-year-old tech titan isn’t slowing down — in fact, he’s aiming to better position Facebook for the future of the Internet:
Zuckerberg, 27, who started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room 8 years ago, said Facebook’s key priorities in 2012 were to improve its mobile application, to build stronger ties incorporating its social network with other online apps and to create a “transformative” advertising experience.
The company is “just getting started” with its mobile app, said Zuckerberg, who appeared on stage in a grey T-shirt and dark trousers at Palo Alto’s Crowne Plaza, flanked by Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and finance chief David Ebersman.
At the Daily Yonder, Nicole Palya Wood of the National Grange (which is one of our members) writes about the promise of 4G networks in rural areas, and how government must ensure the private investment necessary to connect every corner of America to mobile broadband continues to be encouraged:
This year alone, wireless companies will invest about $26 billion in these networks – far more than the government can or should spend at a time when private companies are vigorously competing for customers in all but the handful of communities targeted by the FCC’s auction program.
Let’s hope Washington can keep its end of the bargain – by making sure that the new fund works as promised and by implementing smart policies that support private investment. The universal service fund alone can’t reach every high-cost rural area across the country.
Earlier this week, our own Rick Boucher appeared on Capital Insider to talk about the FCC, incentive auctions, and ensuring enough spectrum is available to keep investment and innovation in mobile broadband going. Here’s the video:
In my opinion, Holman Jenkins is consistently one of the smartest and most engaging writers about the intersection of broadband, investment, and policy. In today’s Wall Street Journal he has a doozie of a column on how dysfunction in Washington is knee-capping broadband investment. The full column is required reading, but here’s a highlight:
Today the cry of “spectrum crisis” is being used to regulate wireless.
But there is no shortage of spectrum; as much spectrum exists as ever has existed. Rather, there is spectrum starvation—a new and fast-growing user, the wireless industry, is being starved of spectrum its customers would willingly pay for because of an archaic government allocation system in which economic logic does not penetrate.
Like food rotting on a dock, only politics and policy prevents spectrum from getting where it’s needed.
If you care about the health of the wireless industry — and if you care about the health of America’s economy, you should — then head on over to the Wall Street Journal and check out what Jenkins has to say.
In anticipation of next week’s CTIA convention in New Orleans, Sinead Carew of Reuters (via the India Times) has a good preview of what is sure to dominate the discussion:
Complaints about the shortage of wireless frequencies and a need for U.S. mobile carriers to consolidate will dominate the industry’s largest annual gathering next week, but regulatory uncertainty may leave the sector powerless to deal with its most pressing issues anytime soon.
U.S. wireless operators argue that too many competitors are fighting over a mature market and that they urgently need more spectrum to cope with increasing demand for bandwidth-hungry services such as video and social networking.
But experts say regulators’ clear reluctance to approve big acquisitions has paralyzed any operators that could otherwise have been keen on combining forces this year.
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