Supporters of wireless networks that can work with any phone or device who thought Federal Communications Commission chair Kevin Martin was an ally were wrong.
Martin told an audience at a trade show that he was issuing an order dismissing a challenge from computer phone service Skype to open all wireless networks to all devices.
"In light of the industry's embrace of a more open wireless platform, it would be premature to adopt any other requirements across the industry," Martin said. "Thus, today I will circulate to my fellow commissioners an order dismissing a petition for declaratory ruling filed by Skype that would apply Carterfone requirements to existing wireless networks."
The 1968 Carterfone legal decision mandated that land-line phone networks could be opened to all devices, such as answering machines, faxes, cordless phones, and eventually dial-up Internet modems. PC-to-PC phone service Skype, a subsidiary of eBay, had filed a petition in February 2007 for the FCC to apply the Carterfone standard to wireless networks.
In dismissing the petition, Martin cited recent developments in the wireless industry such as the recently-concluded auction of wireless spectrum, won by Verizon at $19.6 billion.
The auction's conditions included opening any networks built on the new spectrum to all phones or devices, a condition that Martin said could "help foster innovation on the edges of the network...As important, it will give consumers greater freedom to use the wireless devices and applications of their choice when they purchase service."
S. Derek Turner, research director of media watchdog group Free Press, criticized Martin's decision as "a missed opportunity."
"If open devices and applications are good for consumers in the networks to be built on the newly auctioned spectrum, why not for all mobile networks?," asked Turner. "The small handful of companies that dominate the wireless world have a track record of stifling competition and an aversion to innovation. Trusting these same companies with the promise of the mobile Web is short-sighted."
With friends like these...
Martin used the speech to discuss the failure of the auction to net funding for a first-responder public safety network, which he has promised to investigate. Martin also cited his record of promoting market-friendly policies such as an opposition to "net neutrality," the principle that Internet users can access all content on the Web equally.
"[S]ince I have been Chairman, I have opposed applying network neutrality obligations with mandatory unbundling or wholesale requirements to networks that would undermine investment incentives," Martin said. "This careful balancing of spurring innovation and consumer choice while encouraging infrastructure investment is critical to the wireless industry's continued impressive growth."
Martin's policies have been especially friendly to the telecom industry, which largely opposes net neutrality and originally opposed opening networks to all devices.
Verizon, which even sued the FCC over the "open access" requirements to the wireless auction, has since claimed it would open its network to all devices, for which Martin gave them credit. But industry analysts and observers who have studied Verizon's plans claim their network would be two-tiered, with one for Verizon customers and one for people bringing their own phones--at a much higher cost.
Martin's FCC failed to stop AT&T, Sprint, and Qwest from blocking access to long-distance conference service FreeConference.Com in April 2006, until consumer complaints and media pressure forced the agency to intervene and broker an agreement between the sparring companies.
Martin also pulled out all the stops to ensure that AT&T and BellSouth could merge into the world's largest telecommunications company, even going so far as to say that the merged company was free to ignore conditions placed on it by other FCC commissioners as part of the merger, such as supporting net neutrality principles on its services.
Martin has supported new video franchising legislation that would enable telecom companies to enter new markets and deploy new services much faster than their cable counterparts, often completely bypassing local and municipal governments to deal directly with states.
Meanwhile, Martin has pursued a much more aggressive legislative agenda against the cable industry, demanding that Comcast immediately stop blocking users from accessing BitTorrent under threat of FCC investigation.
Martin has campaigned for sweeping changes to the cable industry, from ending exclusive service deals to apartments and condominiums to campaigning for "cable a la carte," where viewers can buy only the channels they want to watch, rather than package deals.