The Federal Communications Commission Thursday unanimously launched a wide-ranging inquiry into the state of the wireless industry, including what agency rules to add or change that would promote innovation, investment and competition in the space.
Those include the degree that open access to applications and devices spurs those goals which he said are central to the FCC.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski made it clear he thought wireless was a transformative technology, and one that dovetailed with the FCC's current main mission of coming up with a national broadband plan.
In fact, he cited a prediction that mobile broadband-enabled devices could outsell computers by 2011.
Key to the inquiry will be spectrum efficiency, so that more space can be freed up for that wireless innovation, whose effects the chairman said would be deep and far reaching.
The chairman said that decisions on how spectrum is licensed--"or unlicensed"--and managed will have "a profound impact on how the wireless market will develop."
There was also unanimous approval of inquiries into improving FCC's data collection for a report on wireless competition, and whether consumers are getting sufficient information on wireless services before they buy them or when they want to switch services.
Genachowski said that both spurring competition and protecting consumers were driving all those efforts.
He cited the value of spectrum auctions and an unlicensed regime for such innovations as WiFi and Bluetooth, but he also said there had been "failures" where spectrum was allowed to lie fallow, though he did not elaborate on which spectrum band regimes those were.
"Today's inquiry is to get it right as we move into the brave new world of broadband," he said.
He said the commission would be "relentless about developing policies that maximize investment and innovation."
Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell added a note of caution, saying that there was already robust
competition in the wireless industry, with prices coming down and choice going up. While he said he unanimously supported the inquiry, he said where the commission went from there was unclear. He said he hoped the commission would proceed with caution, adding that the FCC's longstanding policy of promoting marketplace forces, rather than command and control regulations, has led to the "remarkable advances" the chairman cited.
"We commend the Federal Communications Commission for embarking on such a comprehensive reform effort as the one described this morning," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn in a statement. "From data collection to the Commission's Web site and FCC procedures, it appears as if the Commission is on the right track to make the changes to bring the agency into the 21st century. We look forward to working with the Commission as it implements this ambitious agenda."
Vonya McCann, vice presidnet of government affairs for Sprint Nextel said her company wanted special access market review to be part of the inquiry.
"Sprint Nextel will, of course, cooperate with the FCC's inquiry," she said in a statement. "We are hopeful that, as part of this inquiry, the Commission will examine the impact vertically integrated telecommunications companies have on the wireless industry, particularly with regards to special access pricing."
"The most productive use of the Commission's time and resources with respect to wireless would be to focus pretty relentlessly, along with the Administration, on freeing up more spectrum," said Randolph May, president of think tank, The Free State Foundation. "That said, Chairman Genachowski's statement is encouraging in that he seems to recognize the extent to which the wireless industry already is competitive and that such competition already has brought extraordinary consumer benefits."
David Donovan, who heads broadcast spectrum watchdog group, the Association for Maximum Service Television, points out that consumers have already benefitted over broadcasters innovative spectrum use, and that he welcomes the chance to help promote more innovation.
"We look forward to working with the FCC on developing sound spectrum management policies that create incentives for investment and promote innovative communications technologies," he told Multichannel News. "Television broadcasters have spent billions of dollars bringing new innovative digital wireless video services to American consumers. Mobile video broadcast services will be a reality soon. Our innovative use of spectrum allowed the government to repurpose 25 percent (108 MHz) of the spectrum formerly devoted to television broadcasting."
That was the UHF spectrum reclaimed in the digital transition and auctioned for advanced wireless services.