Microsoft Flexes Lobbying Muscle

Microsoft makes a bid in Washington to spur rapid deployment of more affordable high-speed networks.

Microsoft Corp. traditionally has steered clear of telecommunications regulators and legislators, but the software giant is raising its profile in Washington in a bid to spur rapid deployment of more affordable high-speed networks. The Redmond, Wash., company views faster, cheaper pipes, particularly emerging wireless broadband networks, as a conduit for selling more software applications and services.

The subject of a highly contentious and protracted debate in Washington, broadband deployment policy pits the Regional Bell Operating Companies against most other telecom service providers, including long distance companies, competing local exchange carriers and cable companies. For more than two years, the Bells have waged a vigorous campaign to roll back regulations requiring them to lease rivals access to the "last mile" of the network at regulated rates.

Stepping directly into the middle of the contest, Microsoft chief technical officer Craig Mundie testified Tuesday morning before a panel of U.S. senators overseeing telecommunications policy. As the sole industry representative testifying among policy experts, Mundie told lawmakers that Washington should foster a wireless alternative to telephone and cable broadband offerings by making more spectrum available. However, the spectrum would not go to the large wireless carriers that typically bid for it at Federal Communications Commission auctions but instead would be available for unlicensed use by anyone.

Emerging wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, WLANs, ultrawide band and software defined radios, offer the potential for deploying broadband connections directly to the consumer via small computing devices, Mundie said, urging lawmakers to prompt the FCC to allocate more spectrum for their use.

Several other panelists at the hearing, including Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, and Michael Price, vice chairman of Evercore Partners Inc. in N.Y., echoed Mundies proposal for more unlicensed spectrum.