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Public Airwaves for the Public Good

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On Monday, June 4, 2007, the following letter was submitted into theFCC public record (06-150) -- signed by over 40 leading technologists, innovators, civic organizations, and others.

It asks the FCC to use the upcoming spectrum auction to pave the way to national high-speed wireless Internet -- with open and neutral networks, and a competitive marketplace.Over 250,000 public comments were submitted by everyday Americans to the FCC in support of this cause. Some key links about this issue and quotes from the letters's signatories are below the public letter.

Federal Communications Commission:

We are writing in support of a simple but powerful principle: Public airwaves should be used for the public good.

The FCC will soon decide how to allocate a huge portion of the public airwaves – the “700 megahertz spectrum.” These newly available airwaves are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionize Internet access­ in our country. Used correctly, these airwaves could beam high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, coffee shop, workplace, and home in America at more affordable rates than current Internet service. This would bridge the digital divide – bringing Internet access to many poor and rural families.

But big phone and cable companies don't want this new competition to their Internet services – they want to cement their market dominance in place. If the FCC simply gives the highest bidder exclusive rights over the new airwaves, phone and cable companies could become permanent gatekeepers of the airwaves – continuing their record of keeping new competition and innovation out of the marketplace. Consumers would be hurt, technological progress would be slowed, and the economic benefits of bringing high-speed Internet to every American family would be lost.

The public airwaves are ours, and they need to be used for the public good. To that end, the signatories of this letter are asking the FCC to do two things as they decide the rules for the upcoming spectrum auction:

First, ensure new competition. Big phone and cable companies who have spent years laying wires in the ground have every incentive to stifle the growth of a competitive high-speed wireless market. Therefore, if America wants to bring high-speed wireless Internet to every community, the FCC needs to ensure that a significant portion of the newly available airwaves go to new market competitors. Such ruleshere prohibiting incumbents from stifling competition and innovation in the marketplace have been used in the past, and numerous approaches can be used to achieve this goal.

Second, ensure “open networks.” The FCC must set the terms of the auction so that whoever wins is prohibited from stifling innovation. For instance, wireless Internet providers must not be allowed to play gatekeeper over which websites their customers can access online – a power that phone companies exert right now to prevent handheld wireless customers from accessing Internet-based phone service. Wireless Net Neutrality will let the market decide which web-based services thrive instead of self-interested gatekeepers.

Also part of “open networks,” the auction winners must not be allowed to blacklist new technology from entering the market. Companies must give consumers the right to attach any safe device to their own devices – the equivalent of the FCC’s landmark 1968 Carterfone decision, mandating that phone companies let customers attach an answering machine to their landline phone. (Indeed, this “right to attach” paved the way for the dial-up modem, which sparked the Internet revolution.)

To facilitate “open networks” – and to maximize competition among providers – at least half of the auctioned airwaves should be licensed on an “open access” basis. This means the auction winner would be less of a gatekeeper than an administrator – with any new competitor allowed to access to the airwaves for a fair market rate. By ushering competition into the marketplace, consumer-friendly practices like Net Neutrality and Carterfone principles would be promoted and reinforced by market forces – customers would be able to leave companies that didn't abide by them for companies that did.

In the end, the FCC has a choice: Use the public airwaves for the public good, or turn them over to companies that will stifle competition and innovation. We, the undersigned, urge you to allow wireless Internet to achieve its full potential – opening the door to affordable high-speed Internet for all, and bridging the digital divide..


Lawrence Lessig – Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society
Craig Newmark – Founder, Craigslist
Jason Devitt – CEO, Skydeck
Amol Sarva – CEO, Txtbl & co-founder, Virgin Mobile
Michael Kieschnick – President, Working Assets Wireless
Andrew "Bunnie" Huang – Cofounder, Chumby Industries
Ram Fish – CEO & Founder, FONAV
Brad Burnham – Union Square Ventures
Micah Sifry – Editor, Personal Democracy Forum & co-founder, Tech President
Andrew Rasiej – Founder, Personal Democracy Forum & co-founder, Tech President
Cory Doctorow – Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California
Gigi Sohn – President and Co-Founder, Public Knowledge
Susan Crawford – Associate Professsor, Cardozo Law School
David Weinberger – Fellow, Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harold Feld – Senior Vice President, Media Access Project
Josh Silver – Executive Director, Free Press
Wes Boyd – Software entrepreneur and MoveOn cofounder
Andy Stern – International President, Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Jeannie Moorman –
President, AFSCME Local 1117 (CA)
James Rucker – Executive Director,
Rev. Robert Farlee – Senior editor, Augsburg Fortress (official publishing arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church)
Linda Jue – Executive Director, New Voices in Independent Journalism
David Alpert – President, Information Policy Action Committee (IPac)
Elizabeth Greenbaum – Executive Director, ArtiCulture
Patrick Murfin – President of the Interfaith Council for Social Justice (McHenry County, Ill.)
Drew McWeeny – Screenwriter/west coast editor, Ain't It Cool News
Dan Manatt – Founder of
Michael Silberman – Director, EchoDitto
Jay Harris – President & Publisher, Mother Jones
Joel Bleifuss – Editor, In These Times
John F Neville – President, Sustainable Arizona
Mike Lerley – Maine small business owner and IT provider (Rent-A-Geek)
Rebecca Tippens – President, Center for Cultural Evolution (MA)
Jaclyn Sargent – Students Advocating Change (Worcester, MA)
Nancy Scola –, former tech policy advisor to Gov. Mark Warner
John Amato – Founder of blog
Jane Hamsher – Founder of blog
Garlin Gilchrist II – Blogger,
Lowell Feld – Founder of & former Netroots Coordinator, Webb for Senate (Virginia blog)
Juan Melli – Founder of (New Jersey blog)
Hugh Jackson – Founder of (Nevada blog)
Myrna Minx – Founder of (Nevada blog)
Matt Singer – Founder of & former blogger for Tester for Senate (Montana blog)



This letter is located here: release on 250,000 public comments is here.
Key writings on this subject are located here, herehere, here, and here.
To be part of the ongoing fight for the public airwaves, sign up here.
To join the Facebook group "I want national wireless Internet!," see click here.


Lawrence Lessig – Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society: New innovations in wireless technology could fundamentally transform Internet access and economic competitiveness in our country. It is crucial that the FCC not permit the public airwaves to fall captive to anti-competitive businesses with a financial interest in stifling such innovation.

Michael Kieschnick – President, Working Assets Wireless: The FCC has a once in a generation opportunity to reverse the policy mistakes of the last decade, in which media consolidation and closed networks have led to warped news, high prices, and an unAmerican lack of innovation. Only by opening up new spectrum for new competitors and mandating open networks can the promise of the free flow of information be attained.

Cory Doctorow – Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California: By clearing space for innovative, individual use of our shared airwaves, the Commission will safeguard the public interest that is otherwise compromised by slow-moving, change-averse incumbents who acquire spectrum and then leave it fallow - benefiting no one."

Amol Sarva – CEO, Txtbl & co-founder, Virgin Mobile: Innovation often requires making bets on ideas that don't initially look like they'll be so huge or rich. Only open access creates a laboratory to try out such ideas and create the next great product.

Jeannie Moorman – President, AFSCME Local 1117 (CA): This is an opportunity to open up access to those who are not currently able to explore the wonderful educational information on the internet that has enriched so many lives.