CTIA Invokes the Great Satan

The cellular industry has reacted with great indignity over just the notion of the government selling off some spectrum to be dedicated for free wireless broadband service. The industry's mouthpiece - the CTIA - insists that if the FCC is going to auction off more spectrum, it should be to the highest bidder who can use the airwaves as it jolly well pleases.

The CTIA's wireless knickers are all knotted up over FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's recent proposal to condition a new spectrum auction on the winner offering a free tier of broadband service. Advertising and fee-based faster tiers would presumably otherwise support the network.

Heresy, cried the CTIA, invoking the great Satan of government regulation. "The public interest is best advanced by the Commission's long-standing flexible-use spectrum policy, which provides spectrum licensees the freedom to innovate and respond to consumer demands," the CTIA said in an FCC filing.

The wireless carriers absolutely revel in the notion that their industry has been built with a minimum of government regulation. The CTIA is the lead tub-thumper of free enterprise and free markets determining winners and losers in the wireless space.

This is the same industry that warehouses spectrum to shut out potential competitors and imposes two-year contracts on consumers with early termination fees. The industry loves closed networks and locked handsets. And let us not forget it was the wireless industry that came up with cramming, adding unauthorized, expensive services to a user's telephone bill.

Last I read, consumers demanded none of this. The carriers, meanwhile, are backstroking through seas of cash that are driving a consolidation of the industry that works against consumers by creating fewer choices.

The CTIA's latest snit over Martin's proposal overlooks one thing: Spectrum belongs to you and me as a public resource. The sale or lease of that spectrum does not necessarily mean selling it to the highest bidder to pad the federal coffers and suit wireless carriers.

As the stewards (a term we use loosely in this case) of the spectrum, the FCC can actually act in the public interest. As the United States continues its free fall in global Internet standings, it doesn't seem a bad idea to consider new ideas.