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Everyone Finds Something to Like in FCC Approval of Wireless T-Mobile/MetroPCS Merger

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WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 – The Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday announced their approval of the proposed merger of mobile wireless carriers T-Mobile and MetroPCS.

Two years after the two agencies nixed AT&T’s attempted acquisition of T-Mobile on antitrust grounds, different non-profit interest groups found different reasons to applaud the news.

“Not long ago AT&T and certain commenters were arguing that T-Mobile could not survive on its own, predicting that the national market would eventually be narrowed down to just two giant carriers,” said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at the non-profit Public Knowledge.

“But policymakers made a stand in favor of competition, and subsequent events have shown they were right to do so. Both Sprint and T-Mobile are in stronger positions than ever before, causing even AT&T to invest in network upgrades. We hope that the FCC updates its spectrum aggregation policies so that the market stays competitive and AT&T and Verizon do not find new ways to pull further ahead of their smaller competitors.”

Sand Randy May, president of the free-market Free State Foundation: “I’ve often been critical of the FCC’s handling of merger applications in the past, especially when the Commission has imposed extraneous conditions that are outside of the bounds of its proper inquiry and when it unduly delays acting on the applications.”

“In this instance, the Commission deserves credit for not imposing conditions its approval of the merger, even though it was asked to impose extraneous job protection provisions. And it deserves credit for acting in a somewhat timely fashion, at least by the Commission’s standards.”

As a result of the approval from the FCC, T-Mobile is free to transfer existing personal communication systems, and advanced wireless services, including licenses and leases to a a new combined corporation known as T-Mobile US Inc. The transaction will also include one lower 700 Megahertz license.

According to the FCC news release, the combination “will result in the combination of overlapping mobile wireless coverage and services in various markets, as well as the transfer of customers…to the newly combined entity.”

According to T Mobile and MetroPCS, the transaction will “combine complimentary spectrum portfolios that…would result in larger blocks of contiguous spectrum.” This combination will allow for “ higher speeds, greater throughput rates and increased capacity.” The two companies hope that the new company will also enhance their broadband and deployment of LTE, the long-term evolution standard for mobile broadband.

“With today’s approval, America’s mobile market continues to strengthen, moving toward robust competition and revitalized competitors,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “Mobile broadband is a key engine of economic growth, with U.S. annual wireless capital investment up 40 percent over the last four years, the largest increase in the world, and few sectors having more potential to create jobs. In this fast-moving space, of course challenges remain, including the need to unleash even more spectrum for mobile broadband and continuing to promote competition and protect consumers.”

See the PDF of the order here.

With AT&T’s T-Mobile Merger All But Dead, It’s Time to Focus on Broadcasters

in Congress/National Broadband Plan/Spectrum/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, August 31, 2011 – With the Justice Department’s announcement on Wednesday that it will contest AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, the attention should now turn to what some consider the deal’s key driver: getting more wireless spectrum into the hands of broadband providers.

In a Wall Street Journal roundup this afternoon, analysts have noted that the Antitrust Division’s decision to challenge the deal makes it “all but definitely dead,” quoting a research report by Craig Moffet of Bernstein Research.

“AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile can be considered all but definitively dead…This clearly came as a significant shock to executives at both companies. But perhaps the most significant take-away from today’s events is that the end of the AT&T/T-Mobile deal is likely to be bad for all the U.S. carriers. There’s no good way to spin this for AT&T. They lose a key driver of synergies, and therefore earnings growth in 2012 and beyond. And they face a more dire spectrum shortfall, suggesting the need for higher capital spending and/or additional spectrum purchases.”

Two other vital perspectives to emerge in today’s commentary come from Harold Feld, the legal director of the non-profit group Public Knowledge, and Bruce Gottlieb, the General Counsel of the publication National Journal.

Feld explored the delicate dance between the DoJ and the FCC. This was also an issue that BroadbandBreakfast.com probed in the Broadband Breakfast Club on May 17, 2011, on whether the FCC or the Justice Department would be tougher on the merger. Watch the free video here.

Feld said that AT&T now faces some steep hurdles, including getting the Federal Communications Commission to approve the merger, in spite of the DoJ’s stance against it. He writes:

Bottom line is that there are really no good options for AT&T at this point. To come back for a victory, AT&T must (a) convince FCC to hold off; while, (b) convincing the court to go ahead despite the FCC being on hold. And then it has to win the case — which the odds do not favor.

It is true that the Antitrust Division’s decision to press suit doesn’t mean the merger cannot go forward, as when Oracle successfully acquired PeopleSoft over the opposition of the government.

But putting aside whether AT&T and T-Mobile may yet save their merger, the real question — as National Journal General Counsel Bruce Gottlieb notes in his post — is about the radio-frequency spectrum that is now the lifeblood of wireless broadband services.

The looming fight over wireless competition will be about how to dole out spectrum that is being repurposed from legacy uses like TV broadcasting to iPhones, iPads, and the like. Will it go to whoever can pay the most? Or will there be a finger on the scale for smaller providers, in the hopes of supporting competition?

The answer will matter tremendously because all carriers are facing spectrum scarcity as next-generation applications require ever-faster speeds. T-Mobile is in far and away the worst spectrum position of all the major carriers—indeed, that is one major reason it agreed to be acquired by AT&T.

The thirst for spectrum is the key reason why the frequencies currently in the possession of the major wireless providers — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — are the most intensively used on the radio dial. And what spectrum is the least intensively used? The spectrum used by television broadcasters. After all, more than 90 percent of television viewing now takes place over cable, satellite, or internet viewing.

Getting spectrum from low-intensity to high-intensity uses is a long-term goal of the FCC, and was a specifically itemized by the National Broadband Plan of March 2010.

But this past April, soon after AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile was announced, National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith challenged the likelihood that the FCC would succeed in its efforts to transform spectrum from broadcast to broadband.

“Were I still a member of the Commerce Committee and looking at budgetary numbers of $30 billion that [incentive auctions are] supposed to provide, and the biggest bidder just walked out, two of them, I would wonder what the options are,” Smith said at the time. “So as you begin to start to say, OK, we can compensate broadcasters, we can build out a public safety network we can add to the Treasury, I’m telling you can’t do all those things.”

If the DoJ’s opposition does indeed kill the deal, Gordon Smith’s challenge is likely to re-ignite another major broadband topic: how to keep satiating the demand that wireless providers have for the spectrum that may soon be formerly used by broadcasters.

AT&T’s Newly Proposed Economic Model For Merger Riles Opposition

in FCC/Media ownership/Mobile Broadband/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2011 – Sen. Al Franken (D-MN.) sent a filing to the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice Tuesday requesting the denial of the merger between wireless carriers AT&T and T-Mobile.

Less than 24 hours after AT&T submitted its most recent economic model to the FCC and DOJ for the proposed merger with T-Mobile, the junior senator from Minnesota weighed in on the conflict, stating that the merger would drive up prices for consumers and likely cost thousands of jobs.

“This transaction is not in the public interest,” Sen. Franken said in his filing.  “T-Mobile offers consistently lower prices than AT&T and is a strong competitive force that keeps AT&T’s consumer retail prices from creeping ever higher. By eliminating T-Mobile from the market, AT&T removes a crucial ‘maverick.’ T-Mobile pressures the larger providers both to offer better products and to do so at a lower price.”

Sprint released a statement critical of AT&T’s new economic model the same day, calling it an attempt to “distract regulators, politicians and consumers” from the negative consequences of the proposed merger.

“Its latest model, clearly constructed with predetermined results in mind, does nothing to change the negative consequences of the takeover for consumers in the form of higher prices, reduced innovation and decreased investment,” said the carrier through the release.

Rick Kaplan, Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, seemed to agree with Sprint’s assertions in a July 20 letter to one of AT&T’s attorneys.

“Indeed, AT&T is now expressly relying on these models to bolster its arguments concerning the size of the efficiencies made possible by the merger as weighed against the potential anti-competitive effects,” wrote Kaplan.

AT&T’s new economic models, submitted to the FCC and DOJ on July 25, showed the impact the merger would have in 15 markets, including Washington, D.C. AT&T argues that the proposed merger would broaden currently strained network capacity, improving user experience on smart phones and wireless tablets.

Free Press Panel Blasts ‘Broken’ FCC

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BOSTON, April 13, 2011 – Panelists at the Free Press National Conference for Media Reform railed on the Federal Communications Commission over the weekend, debating to what extent the Commission has been “captured” by industry and how to fix it.

Joel Kelsey, Political Advisor at Free Press, moderated the panel, entitled “How to Fix the Broken FCC.” The event included participants from the public interest, industry and government sectors.

Kelsey started the discussion by posing the question of the difference between capture by the industry and corruption. He also highlighted issues such as a perceived “revolving door” between employment at the FCC and private industry and the comparative discrepancy between the lobbying representation from the public and that of the telecommunications industry.

“We’re really at an important inflection point,” said Kelsey. “We find the vision we all share and the policies we’re all fighting for are crashing into a political juggernaut in D.C.”

Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of industry watchdog, Public Knowledge, called attention to the entrenched relationship between a government regulator and the industry it oversees as problematic. Repeatedly during the hour-long panel, she pointed a finger at current FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, as having failed to provide competent leadership at the agency.

“We have to tell the White House that we want leadership that leads to an open and democratic medium,” said Sohn. “Unfortunately we don’t have the leadership at the FCC to get the policies we want.”

Sohn also called for a mandatory 5-year buffer between employment with the FCC and private industry – and vice versa.

Chris Libertelli, senior director of government and public affairs at Skype, noted the sometimes-cozy relationships between the industry and the agency and said that a strong conviction was integral to avoiding industry capture.

“We need intellectual leadership,” said Libertelli, “someone who comes to the agency with the mentality of ‘here’s who I’ve been reading, here is the intellectual framework I want to institute.'”

Libertelli, however, disagreed with Sohn’s employment buffer proposal, saying that such a rule would discourage highly-qualified people from considering government service.

Kelsey also presented the question of whether the perceived lack of philosophical direction at the FCC originated within the agency or as a result of influence from the outside. According to Jonathan Askin, a professor at Brooklyn Law school and former senior attorney at the FCC, the problems come from both within and without the Commission.

“The problem is both that there are 100 AT&T lobbyists,” said Askin, throwing the first of what would be several jabs at the telecommunications giant, “but also that they do the work for the staff and the staff lets them do it.”

Askin also asserted that the problem goes beyond the Commission itself, to Congress, which confirms the commissioners.

“At the top, it’s almost impossible to get an independent champion at the FCC,” he said, “when Congress is so heavily influenced by the industry.”

Some members of the panel called out the effects of an agency they seemed to describe as largely a puppet of industry interests through the example of the recent Open Internet Order. That order, which established net neutrality rules for Internet Service Providers, did not go nearly far enough they said. Askin commented that the Order was not “real net neutrality.”

Using the net neutrality rules as an example, Malkia Cyril, executive director and founder of the Center for Media Justice, joined Sohn and Askin in predicting that their perceived weakness of the Open Internet Order signified a likely acquiescence by the FCC to the industry in the upcoming AT&T/T-Mobile merger review.

“Everyday people need to turn their attention from the FCC to the Department of Justice and let them know very clearly what we need out of this [merger],” said Cyril.

Both the DOJ and FCC will review the merger to ensure it comports with antitrust considerations and the public interest, respectively.

While Sohn predicted the DOJ would eventually block the merger – as Libertelli pointed out, Justice has put the kibosh on 2 out of 3 mergers with similar conditions – she did not anticipate a close look by the FCC. Even in the event that the DOJ blocks the merger, however, she asserted that the merger process would sideline T-Mobile in the meantime and may damage competition in the marketplace as much as a successful merger.

Libertelli, in response, called the merger an attempt to replicate the 1913 deal that formalized AT&T’s monopoly over the phone system.

“AT&T is trying to make another Kingsbury Commitment,” he said.

Broadband Breakfast Club Discusses How To Bring More Handsets to More Wireless Carriers

in Broadband TV/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, February 22, 2011 – After Apple recently broke its exclusivity agreement with AT&T and brought the iPhone to Verizon, our panel discusses whether consumers suffer from a lack of choice in handsets between carriers what effects that may have on the wireless marketplace.  Additionally, the panel explores the implications of exclusivity agreements on the consumer and the law and debates the future of these agreements.

The event is available on BroadbandBreakfast.com at the following link.

Panelists included:

  • Dr. Coleman Bazelon, Principal, The Brattle Group
  • Seth Bloom, General Counsel, Sen. Herb Kohl
  • Parul Desai, Communications Policy Counsel, Consumers Union
  • Julia Tanner, General Counsel, MTPCS

The next Broadband Breakfast Club will be held on Tuesday, March 15, 2011, on “The National Broadband Plan: A One Year Update” Registration is available at http://broadbandbreakfast-eorg.eventbrite.com/. The next Intellectual Property Broadband Breakfast Club, “Patent Reform in the 112th Congress” will be held on March 8, 2011. Registration is available at http://ipbreakfast.eventbrite.com.

The Broadband Breakfast Club is sponsored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), and the US Telecom Association.

For further information about sponsorship, contact sylvia@broadbandcensus.com, or call 646-262-4630. The Broadband Breakfast Club is Copyright © Broadband Census News LLC.

U.K. Approves Ticketmaster-Live Nation Merger, U.S. Remains Undecided

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December 23, 2009 – The United Kingdom Competition Commission said Tuesday (PDF) it will clear the proposed merger of Ticketmaster and Live Nation, but United States and Canadian antitrust regulators are still reviewing the deal.

U.K. regulators concluded that the merger of Ticketmaster, a ticketing agent, and Live Nation, a live music promoter and venue operator, “will not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for live music ticket retailing or in any other market in the U.K., including live music promotion and live music venues.”

The commission’s announcement marks a change in course from its provisional decision which expressed concern that the merger could inhibit the entry of Eventim, which is currently providing Live Nation with ticketing software and services, into the U.K.

“We examined how the merged entity might attempt to shut out competitors, for example by Live Nation restricting the availability of tickets for its events to other ticket agents or by Ticketmaster refusing to sell tickets for other promoters and venue operators. However, we found that, in most of these cases, the merged entity would suffer significant and immediate losses, with very uncertain prospects for long-term gain. Therefore, we concluded that it was unlikely that the merged entity would harm other ticketing agencies, promoters and venues in these ways,” said U.K. Competition Commission Deputy Chairman Christopher Clarke.

“Our decision today differs from our provisional findings in October, which is unusual but not unique. The very purpose of publishing our provisional conclusions is to provide all parties with the opportunity to review them and to put forward new evidence or arguments,” Clarke added.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that shares of Live Nation and Ticketmaster Entertainment rose following the commission’s decision.

The companies, which are both based in the U.S., said the U.K. decision paves the way “for the creation of the world’s premiere live entertainment company.” The proposed merger has already been approved by regulators in Norway and Turkey.

U.S., EU At Odds Over Proposed Oracle Merger With Sun

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WASHINGTON, November 10, 2009 – The United States and European Union antitrust regulatory bodies are at odds over whether Oracle Corporation should be allowed to go through with its proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems.

While the U.S. has not found any issues with the proposed merger, the EU has been putting on the breaks. On Monday, the European Commission issued a statement of objections concerning the acquisition of Sun by Oracle and the deal’s potentially negative effects on competition in the database products market.

“After conducting a careful investigation of the proposed transaction between Oracle and Sun, the Department’s Antitrust Division concluded that the merger is unlikely to be anticompetitive. This conclusion was based on the particular facts of the transaction and the Division’s prior investigations in the relevant industries,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Molly Boast of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division said Monday, in a statement.

“The investigation included gathering statements from a variety of industry participants and a review of the parties’ internal business documents. At this point in its process, it appears that the European Commission holds a different view. We remain hopeful that the parties and the EC will reach a speedy resolution that benefits consumers in the Commission’s jurisdiction,” said Boast.

The U.S. Justice Department  found many open-source and proprietary database competitors and noted that “consumer harm is unlikely because customers would continue to have choices from a variety of well established and widely accepted database products.” Justice also found a large community of developers and users of Sun’s open source database who could “support a derivative version of it.”

On April 20 the companies announced that Oracle was seeking to purchase Sun’s common stock for $9.50 per share in cash with the entire transaction valued at approximately $7.4 billion. At the time Sun wrote in a release that “The Board of Directors of Sun Microsystems has unanimously approved the transaction. It is anticipated to close this summer, subject to Sun stockholder approval, certain regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.”

Oracle said Monday that its acquisition of Sun is “essential for competition in the high end server market, for revitalizing Sparc and Solaris and for strengthening the Java development platform.”

The company said the transaction does not threaten to reduce competition in any regard. Oracle further alleged that the EU Commission’s objections reflect a “profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open source dynamics.” The company said, “There is no basis in European law for objecting to a merger of two among eight firms selling differentiated products.”

“The two agencies certainly are working together, which is in everyone’s interest, but the cases where the two continents have diverged certainly seem to be piling up. Perhaps we need to look at the procedural fairness issues,” said Makan Delrahim, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. “If we had some convergence on the process and the analytical mechanisms of reviewing mergers as well as general business conduct, then we can have some real discussions to see if we are on the same page on substantive antitrust law,” he said.

Delrahim added that “Tensions on this side of the Atlantic, after GE-Honeywell, Microsoft, Intel and now Oracle-Sun, certainly seem to be brewing.  Perhaps we need to reconsider whether an international code of antitrust conduct would eventually make sense.” 

American Antitrust Institute President Albert Foer said “It is unusual for either the U.S. or the EU to comment on one another’s cases while they are on-going. The antitrust agencies have worked hard to establish strong collegial relationships, but it looks like efforts to reach similar conclusions on the Oracle-Sun deal were not successful and for the moment, feathers are ruffled on both sides of the ocean. I hope that calm will prevail and that the agencies will agree to disagree.”

Dow Jones reported Tuesday afternoon that the EU Commission’s objections led to the stock of Sun Microsystems dropping near its lowest levels since the Oracle acquisition was announced.

A Congressional Workshop on Trust

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A Congressional workshop will examine the proper application of antitrust policy to the information technology sector and scrutinize the direction the new administration is taking. The workshop will occur on October 16 in the Rayburn Office building. The workshop has the potential to explore how the application of government antitrust law can significantly affect innovation and investment, for good or ill.

The event is expected to focus on innovation and whether pro-competitive, pro-consumer behavior in high-tech may differ from such behavior in more traditional industries, as well as on how antitrust enforcement balances the risks of failing to stop potentially anticompetitive activities.

The panel will be moderated by Thomas Lenard of the Technology Policy Institute and will feature:

  • David Evans, University of Chicago and University College London;
  • Douglas Melamed, Wilmer Hale, former Acting Assistant Attorney General, Antitrust Division;
  • Philip Weiser, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International, Policy and Appellate Matters, Antitrust Division;
  • Joshua Wright, George Mason University School of Law; and
  • Jonathan Zuck, Association for Competitive Technology

IT firms have characteristics that make antitrust enforcement more complex, including significant amounts of intangible capital, supply- and demand-side economies of scale, and rapidly changing markets characterized by continuous innovation. The new administration has signaled a more proactive approach to antitrust enforcement, particularly with respect to high-tech and Internet-based markets.

Apple, AT&T Deny Collusion in FCC Google Voice Inquiry

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WASHINGTON, August 24, 2009 – Apple, Inc. and AT&T on Friday filed responses with the Federal Communications Commission in which both companies strenuously denied that Apple’s removal of the Google Voice application from Apple’s iPhone App Store was for anticompetitive reasons.

The two companies, as well as Google, were responding to an inquiry by the commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau that had been prompted by Apple’s refusal to allow consumers to download Google’s Google Voice application to use on their iPhones. The application lets users make and receive calls, text messages and voice mail from Google Voice – not the underlying AT&T wireless service.

Apple denied it had banned Google Voice, instead insisting it was “studying” the application to determine its’ effect on the iPhone user experience. Google Voice “appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail,” Apple said in its’ response – an alteration Apple feels requires further investigation.

But Apple insisted it had no dealings with AT&T in its’ decision: “Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application,” the company wrote.

AT&T also denied any consultation with Apple, with both companies insisting no contractual arrangement exists between with with respect to the iPhone app store.

But Google might have other thoughts. In it’s response to the FCC’s inquiry, Google redacted Apple’s reasons for rejecting the application as “confidential.”

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s Incredible Silicon Valley Wi-Fi Adventure

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SAN JOSE, November 6 – It was Kevin Martin’s day to suck up praise from Silicon Valley.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission – for about two more months – came to the Wireless Communications Association’s annual conference here on Thursday to be feted by many Googlers, including company co-founder Larry Page.

Google had billions of dollars’ worth of reasons to be thankful to Martin. In a hat-trick of decisions on Election Day, Martin shephered a Google-led initiative to make use of the vacant “white spaces” on the television dial through the political shoals of the traditionally broadcaster-friendly FCC.

Also on Tuesday, the agency’s five commissioners unanimously voted to approve the merger of Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, aided by investment from – you guessed it – Google (plus Intel, Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner).

The clean merger of the old Clearwire and the wireless carrier Sprint Nextel took a rocket docket through the FCC. It required no divestiture of assets, as is generally par for the course. Announced on May 7, the merger was approved on November 4, or 181 days later.

By contrast, Comcast and Time Warner had to cool their heels for 404 days before they could accept a condition-riddled division of the assets of failed cable operators Adelphia, in July 2006.

Even AT&T, which once seemed like the favored son of the Martin FCC, was forced to wait 269 days before it could consummate its relations with BellSouth, and 273 days for the merger of SBC Communications and the old AT&T.

In the third significant decision at Tuesday’s FCC meeting, Verizon Communications got the blessing to gobble up wireless competitor Alltel – a merger announced on June 5 – but Verizon had to “voluntarily divest” itself of spectrum assets in 100 markets.

The wireless association’s conference here on Thursday was a celebration of all things Google-ish, with a keynote by Larry Page, a joint press conference by Page and Martin, and a VIP-only reception hosted by Google, TechNet and the wireless association.

In his keynote, Page got right to the point. “I really want to applaud the chairman and the FCC for doing the right thing, and one of the most important things that they can do and that happened in technology in a long time,” he said, speaking about the white spaces decision.

On Tuesday, the FCC approved an order by its Office of Engineering and Technology – powerfully pushed by Google and a collection of other high-tech companies including Microsoft, Motorola, Phillips and others – to allow wireless devices to transmit internet signals in the radio-frequencies unused by television stations.

Each city has dozens of such vacant channels. In San Jose, 26 of the 49 stations between channels 2 and 51 are occupied by broadcasters, leaving 23 potentially available for transmitting broadband, Wi-Fi style, according the Media Tracker of the Center for Public Integrity.

Google’s Page wasn’t clear on any company plans to flood the market with devices that that can take advantage of all those vacant broadcast channels. Nor was he clear – other than the fact that he was very, very excited – on how or whether the company would leverage its spectrum investment in the new Clearwire with its work on Wi-Fi.

“We are an investor in the Clearwire thing, so we are excited about that,” Page said. “They have tremendous [spectrum holdings]. We are absolutely excited about devices that use that spectrum.”

But Page did suggest that the accidental success of Wi-Fi would likely set the stage for a new flowering of white spaces devices.

“We use Wi-Fi all the time to connect to the Internet,” Page said.  “At Google, everyone is connecting to laptops. We have Ethernet cables, but we don’t even plug them in, because the Wi-Fi is so good.”

In his speech, Page called Wi-Fi – which utilizes spectrum in the 2.4 Gigahertz (GHz) range – a fortunate accident. He called it “bad spectrum that was useless, and so it was put in this unlicensed regime. Wi-Fi came along, and great engineers got a hold of it, and it is basically used for all of our internet connections.”

Kevin Martin chimed in. He pointed out that “wireless microphones are not licensed” and that “many did not go through certification, the way they were originally supposed to.”

The fact that wireless microphones are able to operate without disrupting broadcast television demonstrated, Martin said, the validity of the Silicon Valley argument in favor of opening the broadcast band up for experimentation and innovation.

The propagation characteristics of 2.4 GHz spectrum aren’t great. “Wi-Fi goes through two walls and then it stops,” Page said. The white spaces between channels 2 and 51, by contrast, operate in relatively low frequencies, from 54 Megahertz (MHz) to 698 MHz.

These lower frequencies will allow for cheaper deployment than Wi-Fi, and “a new wireless broadband alternative that reaches millions,” according to Google’s “White Spaces: Access for the Future” document bandied about the conference here.

The Google report cites an analysis prepared by the New America Foundation’s Wireless Future Program showing that the amount of vacant white spaces after the DTV transition varies from 82 percent of the broadcast band in less-populated markets like Fargo, North Dakota, to 30 percent of the band in densely-populated Trenton, New Jersey.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt is Chairman of the New America Foundation, and the think tank has received donations from Schmidt, but not from Google or Google.org, the search giant’s non-profit affiliate.

What plans does Google have for all of this new white spaces spectrum? In a separate presentation at a companion conference here sponsored jointly by the FCC and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, Daniel Conrad of Google’s strategic partnership division said, “Getting to this spectrum, which is unused, allows you to hit great range [that] allows you to even get indoors with your network.”

Conrad noted that Google, which operates a public Wi-Fi network in its home city of Mountain View, Calif., can’t use the network inside buildings.

“Not that Google has some grand master plan for what will happen with this spectrum,” said Conrad. “We are happy to see the support of the [FCC] to open it up and to allow anyone to bring whatever business model they want to this space” – provided, of course, that that business model calls for an unlicensed use of the frequencies.

Martin, for his part, said he decided to act now on white spaces because the transition to digital television was nearly complete. “There were two things that were important in my thinking,” Martin said in the joint press conference with Google’s Page. “Utilizing the white spaces prior to the DTV transition, because you were going to be moving the broadcasters around, was going to affect consumers.”

Martin also said that that he was confident that white spaces devices submitted by technology companies met technical requirements for non-interference with broadcast television.

The Martin-feting continued all day. At the Google-TechNet cocktail hour, Google Vice President Doug Garland told him, “We have been so appreciative of your leadership in so many ways.”

Martin, his days at the FCC clearly numbered, sounded relieved to get outside the Beltway. “It is helpful for us to come out to Silicon Valley and get an appreciation” for innovation.

Correction

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that the New America Foundation had received funding from Google. New America Foundation Vice President Michael Calabrese said that neither Google nor Google.org had ever given funding to the think tank.

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