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Free Press: Momentum Builds for 'Open Access' to the Public Airwaves

JUNE 15, 2007
10:25 AM

CONTACT: Free Press 
Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x22

Momentum Builds for 'Open Access' to the Public Airwaves
Senators Speak Out for Open Networks as Part of the Upcoming Spectrum Auction

WASHINGTON - JUNE 15 - Members of Congress today expressed their support for the concept of "open access" during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the pending auction of a valuable piece of the public airwaves.

While the sale of the "700 megahertz band" is a complex issue, it has captured the attention of more than a quarter-million Americans who last week called for these airwaves to be used to create more open, neutral and affordable Internet access.

During today's hearing, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stated, "open access proposals and innovative bidding rules must be closely considered" before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines rules that will govern the sale of these airwaves.

"The auction of the public airwaves is a chance for political leaders to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet," said Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, which coordinates the Coalition. "The current business model a marketplace dominated by cable and phone companies has failed. We need open networks to better foster new entrants and innovation while driving down costs to the consumer."

The 700 MHz band could beam high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace and home in America. But cable and phone companies want the FCC to structure the spectrum auction so that they can scoop up licenses and continue to dominate Internet access.

Momentum is building for "open access" principles, which make the network available on a wholesale basis to new entrants, services and applications. At the hearing today, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) called the auction a "revolution of the communications landscape." Sen. Kerry's statements followed his editorial yesterday in The Hill urging the FCC to "establish auction rules that maximize the likelihood of innovation and ease competitive entry."

Last month, presidential candidate John Edwards called on the FCC to "seize the chance to transform the Internet and the future" by requiring that half of the soon-to-be-available public airwaves be reserved for open access. And last week, a group of more than 40 leading technologists, wireless innovators, civic organizations and others sent a joint letter to the FCC calling for a sizable portion of the airwaves to be licensed on an "open access" basis to usher more competition into the marketplace.

Members of the Coalition including Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Free Press have also urged the FCC to ensure that the upcoming auction sets aside at least half of the available spectrum for "open networks." Last week, more than 250,000 members of Civic Action, Free Press and Working Assets Wireless, alongside other concerned citizens, contacted the FCC with similar concerns.

"In the midst of all the complex details, we can't lose sight of why this auction matters," Karr said. "This may be our best opportunity to ensure universal, affordable Internet for everyone."



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