Responding to the FCC request for input on a plan for providing national broadband Internet access, the antitrust division of the Justice Department urged the FCC to act quickly to reallocate the available frequency spectrum to expand its availability for wireless broadband, and make the broadband market more competitive.
The Department of Justice filing states "Given the potential of wireless services to reach underserved areas and to provide an alternative to wireline broadband providers in other areas, the [FCC]'s primary tool for promoting broadband competition should be freeing up spectrum."
The response continues, stating that among other obstacles impeding Clearwire, T-Mobile, Sprint, and others from deploying effective wireless broadband systems "the scarcity of spectrum is a fundamental obstacle that the [FCC] should address. Stated simply, without access to sufficient spectrum a firm cannot provide state-of-the-art wireless broadband services."
The FCC request for input, and the DOJ response are indications of the urgency the United States government is placing on making broadband Internet access available universally. The problem is that much of the nation is rural and does not have the wired infrastructure necessary to deliver broadband access.
Increasing the availability of wireless broadband resolves two issues simultaneously. First, it would make broadband access available on a cost-effective basis in areas not currently served by wireline broadband service. Second, it levels the playing field between wireless and wireline broadband access and offers an opportunity for new players to compete against traditional communications giants.
One way the FCC could address the need for greater spectrum availability for wireless broadband would be to shuffle the UHF and VHF frequency spectrums previously allocated for television, as FCC chairman Julius Genachowski suggested back in October of 2009.
While the DOJ feels that the situation is urgent and the FCC should act quickly to address the looming spectrum crisis, it also cautioned the FCC to work toward expanding beyond the traditional players and providing a way to level the playing field for new entrants.
Responding to a separate inquiry related to transitioning from traditional switched communications to a purely IP-based communications network, AT&T responded by asking the FCC to work toward establishing a deadline to end wired phone service as we know it.
The FCC has a lot on its plate, although the scope of its jurisdiction varies depending on the political agenda it is viewed through. It is a dynamic time for both voice and Internet, and the FCC has the daunting task of weeding through lobbyists and special interests to ensure that the result meets the needs of consumers and provides a fair and competitive landscape for providers at the same time.