FCC's Martin: Open Networks Becoming the Norm

On the eve of a new administration, the FCC chairman reflects on his tenure and looks ahead to unfinished business.

Kevin Martin
FCC Chair Kevin Martin speaks at this week's telecom symposium in Washington
WASHINGTON -- Is openness here to say?

Kevin Martin thinks so. Speaking here at the National Press Club yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission's chairman weighed his oversight of major FCC efforts that, he said, guided the telecom industry toward greater network openness.

And, Martin added, he managed to do so without relying too much on the heavy hand of regulation.

During the annual telecom summit hosted here by the Phoenix Center, a Washington think tank, Martin talked of the balancing act between carriers -- who are reluctant to open access to their networks -- and the growing demands of device and application makers, who insist on an open-platform model.

In particular, he was pleased with the trend toward openness that had been set in motion during the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction, which concluded earlier this year.

Under rules pushed by Martin, the winner of the most valuable swath of that spectrum, known as the C block, could use it to build a network only if they agreed to make it be compatible with all applications and devices.

"I think I was able to craft a compromise that did respect the ability of consumers to be able to go where they wanted to on the Internet and have it more open to applications and devices, and at the same time, have it shy away from the regulations that could inhibit investment in networks," he said.

Verizon Wireless, the carrier that ultimately won the C block, sued over the FCC's open-access conditions before the auction got underway. Eventually, however, the company withdrew its challenge.

Equally heartening for Martin was Sprint's promise of openness in its ambitious joint WiMAX venture with Clearwire, which the FCC approved earlier this month. He also noted T-Mobile's partnership with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to develop the G1 phone, the first device built on the open source Android platform.

"You've got a dramatic shift," Martin said. "Within a year, you had the industry association saying something was technologically impossible to all of them embracing it and figuring out how they're going to implement it."

That association, CTIA, the trade group representing the wireless industry, dropped its own lawsuit against the open-access requirements for the 700 MHz spectrum last week, effectively putting to rest the final controversy over the issue.

To Martin's mind, the carriers' moves toward open-access provisions dispense with the need for more regulation, even if they took a little coaxing.

That's why he reiterated his opposition to a petition from Skype, eBay's Internet phone company, which asked the FCC to force carriers to open their networks to it and similar communications services. Martin has recommended that his fellow commissioners reject the petition, but that they do so without prejudice, meaning they could revisit the issue if access problems were to continue.

Next page: Martin's next steps

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TAGS: wireless,FCC,spectrum,carriers,Wimax

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