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Friday, April 6, 2007

Frontline, Reed Hundt and Net Neutrality
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A few weeks ago, I blogged on the Cyren Call proposal to use the purported need for more public safety spectrum as an excuse to wring a few billion dollars worth of free spectrum out of the FCC to start a new cell phone company. Policymakers seem to have gotten the message this is a bad idea, and the word on the street is that Cyren Call is going nowhere.

The basic idea behind Cyren Call – tying a private agenda (making money) to a politically popular cause (improving public safety communications) – is a clever one, though, and it has spawned a small raft of imitators.

One of those is Frontline Wireless. Co-chaired by our old friend Reed Hundt, Frontline (like Cyren Call) is essentially a lobbying firm established for the sole purpose of getting the FCC to jigger the rules in the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction to subsidize the startup of a new wireless carrier. The mechanics of the Frontline plan differ from Cyren Call, but the political calculus is the same: Take an idea that would be a non-starter on its own, package it as a way to improve public safety communications, and get the first responders to carry the water with the Hill and at the FCC.

But Chairman Hundt has gone Cyren Call one better: In addition to some public safety groups, he has turned Frontline into a stalking horse for the “net neutrality” crowd. Indeed, the Media Access Project, the New America Foundation and Public Knowledge (among others) yesterday filed comments with the FCC lauding the Frontline plan. Why? Because Frontline has agreed to “be generally prohibited from blocking users’ access to services or content provided by unaffiliated parties,…be obligated to offer QoS capabilities to all content, application and service providers on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis, [and] not be permitted to block the connection of terminal equipment to the network, so long as the equipment complies with relevant technical specifications [blah blah blah….].”

To top it off, the groups say, Frontline’s plan to operate as a wholesale-only carrier “will create a competitive retail market for wireless broadband services” and so “bring innovative, competitive providers into the market that would otherwise never appear.”

One hardly knows where to start. As the FCC considers all this, however, it might do well to remember the last time Mr. Hundt set out, in his own words, “to provide the new entrants to the telephone markets a fairer chance to compete than they might find in any explicit provision of the law.” It was called the CLEC meltdown.

By the way: As I disclosed in my earlier blog, I co-authored a paper critical of Cyren Call that was sponsored by the High-Tech DTV Coalition and the Consumer Electronics Association. My criticism of Frontline is pro bono.

posted by Jeff Eisenach @ 10:37 AM | Communications , Net Neutrality , Spectrum , Wireless

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