Oh yeah, the Skype Petition . . .

In addition to my pleas to save the 700 MHz auction, save postal rates, save internet radio, save the last dance, etc., etc., I almost completely forgot about supporting the Skype Petition. Comments are due Monday, April 30. You can file comments by going to the FCC’s website and filling out the fields. It’s pretty self explanatory except the docket number, which is RM-11361. Just click here.

Oh yeah, I should probably explain a bit about what this is and why you should care. For that, see below . . . . .

You may remember sometime back in February I wrote about Tim Wu’s wireless net neutrality and Cartefone paper. Fairly soon thereafter, Skype posted on its blog that it wanted to create a public dialog around this isue. So Skype filed a Petition with the FCC asking the FCC to apply its existing rules on network attachment to the wireline space to the wireless space. You can see the filed petition here. The FCC put the petition out on public notice, then granted the motion of SKYPE and CTIA to extend the deadline for Comments to April 30 (replies due May 15).

As Democratic FCC Commissioner Copps pointed out in his separate statement when the FCC reclassified wireless broadband as an information service, the right to attach any non-harmful device to the network is one of the FCC’s four broadband principles. Time for the FCC to show it actually means what it says and applies its principles in all cases, not just when application of supposedly universal principles means more deregulation.

I should point out that the Skype Petition addresses only network attachments and not network neutrality generally. So I support it as a step in the right direction, but believe the FCC (and Congress) need to go further and adopt full network neutrality for wireless as well as wireline services. Still, even just getting the FCC to apply its own rules and principles to the wireless space would be a huge win for the public interest. (I shall pause a moment so we can all savor the patheticness of needing to go on bended knee to an agency to get it to apply its own regulations and principles.)

Opponents usually protest that (a) wireless is a competitive industry, so we shouldn’t regulate, because competition is automatically better; and (b) wireless uses different technology than wireline.

As for the first, regular readers already know my opinion. Public policy starts with a desired result (cheap, affordable devices capable of cool things, an ability to use ubiquitous networks to communicate without interference, a system that maximizes innovation and spreads it throughout the “value chain” rather than allowing any part of the chain to dominate) and then finds the best way to achieve it. The notion that because we have four players in a national market means we’ve achieved a nirvana where government regulation can only create harm is, in my view at least, one of the more troublesome religious dogmas in an age not lacking for irrational beliefs (Henlien’s “Crazy Years” had nothing on the neo-cons). If we can clearly see that valuable economic and social activity is being prevented by the ability of four national players to tacitly agree to operate under the same set of unwritten rules so they can capture the maximum value for themselves, then we need to intervene no matter how competitive the market is.

Turning to the technology question: yes, wireline and wireless use different technologies. So the solution for interoperability will be different than the creation of a standard telephone jack. But “different” does not mean “impossible.” Technological realities matter, but they are not a magic talisman that gives companies a “do whatever the heck you want” card. It is clear that companies can develop wireless standards when they want. My use of this computer on my home wireless router is proof of that. These companies just need the proper incentive, such as an FCC willing to enforce its own rules and policies.

Hopefully, if enough of us press the FCC that Congress and the Commission see how the political winds lie, the FCC will actually enforce its own rules.

Stay tuned . . . . .

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