The FCC has now completed the auction of the part of the broadcast spectrum that will be vacated when the broadcast television stations stop broadcasting analog signals next February. This is the 700 mhz slice of the spectrum and it has potential to be useful for many services such as wireless broadband internet. One of the biggest questions about this auction, related to the concerns in Anarchist in the Library, is what forms of control will be imposed over this important slice of spectrum? Who will control it (well, we know the answer to that now) and to what end? How will access to the new networks be granted? Will it be on a neutral, open basis or will it be tightly controlled and hierarchical? If you are interested in following up on this, here are some places to start.
In 2005 Matthew Yglesias criticized US policy on broadband as a failure compared to the policies in other countries. Much of the pessimistic projection of the future in his article has now come to pass.
Gizmodo, an entertaining technology site, has an overview of the 700 mhz auction, who the players were and what they hope to get out of the billions they have agreed to pay for control over slices of the airwaves.
It turns out that Verizon and AT&T won most of the auction, with Dish Network and a few others also taking a few pieces. However, things proceeded in a way that rules requiring that part of the spectrum be treated as an open platform kicked in.
Nevertheless, the auction was seen as a victory for Google, since the bidding was high enough to trigger the “open-platform” rules it requested for the nationwide airwaves eventually won by Verizon.
Google called it a victory for American consumers. “Consumers soon should begin enjoying new, Internet-like freedom to get the most out of their mobile phones and other wireless devices,” said a statement from Google lawyers Richard Whitt and Joseph Faber.
Time will tell what this “open-platform” will actually look like in practice, whether it will allow for innovation at the ends of the network that isn’t controlled by Verizon, or whether the 700 mhz block of spectrum which had been “the public airwaves” regulated by government licensing procedures in the public interest (an admittedly flawed regulatory regime to be sure) have simply been privatized to be regulated by Verizon licensing procedures.