Broadband Should Be in Every Home
By Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)
A very important piece of public property is about to be auctioned off. You won't find it on a map, but it is prime real estate. And the sale of this property has profound implications for schools, businesses, emergency first responders, rural communities and the future of wireless communication and innovation in America.
In the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction, the Federal Communications Commission will auction off an important slice of our airwaves. The FCC has a choice: It can either provide extraordinary benefits to millions of Americans or tilt bandwidth policy to line the pockets of a privileged few.
The airwaves belong to the American people -- and their use should serve the public interest, not corporate interests. In recent auctions, the big communications companies actively used their bidding power to shut out new providers. As a result, these new companies faced near impossible barriers to entry in the wireless communications industry. What does this mean for us? Consumers don't enjoy the lower prices and better service that would result from more choice in the communications marketplace.
The upcoming auction presents a real opportunity to promote economic competitiveness and address affordability and availability of important wireless services.
The spectrum being auctioned -- the 700 MHz spectrum -- really is prime real estate. Some have called it "beachfront property." This spectrum, currently used for television broadcast signals, can transmit signals through trees, buildings and other structures. It is being auctioned off because television is going digital in 2009. Digital signals will take up less space than the analog being used today, leaving new frequencies available. These are powerful signals, and the devices operating in this spectrum band will be attractive for other consumer uses.
Today, from rural areas to big cities, more than 60 percent of the country does not subscribe to broadband service -- many because they do not have access to broadband Internet service or simply cannot afford it. Last year in Massachusetts -- a state known for being a nationwide leader in technological advances -- less than half our residents had broadband service -- and that was the fourth-best rate in the country.
From drafting "white spaces" legislation to supporting municipal broadband, I have advanced and supported a list of measures designed to increase broadband penetration levels so more people in more parts of the country can access these services. This auction provides another unique opportunity to advance the cause.
The FCC must establish auction rules that maximize the likelihood of innovation and ease competitive entry. We must seek the broadest level of participation in the auction, to promote new broadband competition and enable entrepreneurs to provide affordable, competitive high-speed wireless broadband services. In addition, the FCC must consider strict buildout requirements that compel auction winners -- in a reasonable time frame -- to offer services using this spectrum. Allowing the big companies to scoop up the spectrum and sit on it is not acceptable.
Using the public's bandwidth to serve the public interest also means paying attention to another long-neglected area of communications policy: public safety and emergency communications. The 9/11 Commission cited grave inadequacies in our emergency communication systems. On that day, our firemen and women, police, and emergency workers could not communicate as the crisis unfolded. The safety of our first responders must be a top priority. The auction is a major opportunity for the FCC to advance these unmet needs.
The Internet and our airwaves are public property. All Americans should benefit from and be able to access it -- not just in revenues the government earns from selling spectrum to corporations, but also in expanded access to revolutionary new technology for every American.
Our economy, our schools, our families and our first responders are counting on the FCC and conduct a fair auction in the spirit of competition and innovation that drives the Internet today. Previous generations ushered in new eras of economic progress with electricity for rural areas and a car in every driveway. In 2007 to stay competitive, we should strive to do the same with broadband in every home.
Kerry is the chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee
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