The FCC recently unveiled their National Broadband Plan in response to the brewing wireless spectrum crisis that’s expected to hinder the growth of high-speed wireless data services in the US. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg this week responded to the FCC’s plan, undermining the need for a plan to free up more wireless spectrum for carriers. Yesterday, the FCC’s Chief of Staff Edward Lazarus posted to the Broadband.gov blog a response to Seidenberg’s comments, calling them “baffling” and pointing out that Verizon was, in fact, one of the leaders in the push to get the FCC to open up more spectrum for mobile broadband services.
The National Broadband Plan outlines its plan to bring affordable high-speed internet access to at least 100 million US households, which includes provisions for requesting that TV broadcasters donate their unused spectrum and allow the FCC to auction that spectrum off to wireless carriers in need of a larger data pipe. The idea is to free up something like an additional 500Mhz swath of wireless spectrum to help carriers push data-intensive services to their customers. As it stands now, most of the players in the wireless industry agree that the US will soon face a “spectrum crisis” that will leave carriers without unable to keep up with mobile broadband data demands.
Now, this is the part where Verizon baffles the FCC. In a recent interview, VZW CEO Seidenberg said that he doesn’t “think the FCC should tinker with this.” Instead, he thinks that “the market’s going to settle this. So in the long term, if we can’t show that we have applications and services to utilize that spectrum better than the broadcasters, then the broadcasters will keep the spectrum.”
Seidenberg reinforced his contradictory position by positing:
“If video takes off, could we have a spectrum shortage in five or seven years? Could be, but I think that technology will tend to solve these issues. And I happen to think that we’ll advance fast enough that some of the broadcasters will probably think, let me cash out and let me go do something different. I think the market will settle it. So I don’t think we’ll have a spectrum shortage the way this document suggests we will.”
What’s so contradictory about all this? Well, Verizon was one of the key players advocating the need to secure more wireless spectrum to ensure continued mobile broadband growth. This is Verizon’s statement indicating that it believes freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband is important – from June 9, 2009:
“Verizon Wireless believes it is vitally important for the federal government to identify spectrum bands that can be reallocated for future broadband use. Any policy or strategy to promote broadband access to acknowledge the need for more spectrum in order to meet the growing demand for wireless broadband.”
“The government has the responsibility to identify and license spectrum to serve the public interest.”
“Verizon Wireless believes that a more important goal of any spectrum inventory should be to identify any underused spectrum that can be repurposed to auction for broadband use.”
Verizon followed up in September 30, 2009 with their statement that urged the FCC to allow wireless carriers to snatch up underused wireless spectrum (emphasis ours):
“The Commission has identified only 50 megahertz of additional spectrum for next generation wireless growth. This total lags behind both the United States’ competitor nations as well as the ever increasing demand for mobile broadband services. Verizon Wireless therefore urges the Commission to undertake a targeted examination of spectrum to identify additional bands.”
“Recognizing that ‘the world is at the precipice of the full scale convergence of two powerful and sweeping forces: wireless mobility and broadband internet access,’ numerous studies have analyzed the growing market for mobile broadband and concluded that significant additional spectrum must be allocated in order to keep up with demand and changing technologies. These studies make clear the urgency with which the Commission must act to identify and allocate additional spectrum for wireless services in order to maintain and promote innovation.”
So, that brings us to yesterday, when the FCC posted their response to Verizon’s suddenly contradictory position:
That’s why the recent statements by Verizon’s CEO are rather baffling. The fact is, Verizon played a major role in building an overwhelming record in support of more mobile broadband spectrum, consistently expressing its official view that the country faces a looming spectrum crisis that could undermine the country’s global competitiveness.
What happened between the time when Verizon started pushing for additional spectrum auctions and when the FCC released their plans to actually free up more spectrum? We have no idea. Only Seidenberg knows for sure what he means when he says that he think the market will settle the spectrum shortage issue. One possibility could be that Verizon wants to make its own backroom deals with broadcasters directly, side-stepping an official federal auction of the airwaves.
What say you? Does the FCC have it right in thinking that they should take unused spectrum and auction it off? Or does Verizon’s new position on letting the market hash things out make more sense?