Dish Network & DirecTV Team Up with Google, Intel, Skype and Yahoo!

Very interesting twist to the upcoming spectrum auctions. Breaking story via Multichannel News:

DirecTV and EchoStar Communications formed an alliance with Google, Intel, Yahoo and Skype in support of a national licensing plan for a pending federal spectrum auction expected to take in at least $10 billion, according to draft of the plan obtained by Multichannel News Tuesday. The formation of the alliance doesn’t mean that the companies are going to bid together in the auction, which, by law, has to begin by Jan. 28, 2008. Instead, each alliance member has an interest in seeing that the Federal Communications Commission permits bidders to aggregate enough licenses to cover substantially all of the United States. The 60 megahertz of spectrum up for auction is returning to the FCC as a result of TV broadcasters’ transition to digital-only transmission. Broadcasters won’t require the same amount of bandwidth in total because digital signals are spectrally more efficient than analog airwaves.

Every full-power TV station is required to terminate analog TV service no later than Feb. 17, 2009. The analog cutoff would also allow public-safety entities to obtain 24 MHz of former analog-TV spectrum.

 

5 Comments

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  • Rocco Fanucci says:

    Now I might be able to understand better how Skype’s FCC petition factors in setting a new course for wireless communications. VoIP News provided an excellent analysis:

    Skype’s Wireless FCC Petition An Uphill Battle
    Winning a more open cellular infrastructure will prove a daunting challenge.

    Robert Poe on March 2nd, 2007

    The petition on wireless networks that Skype submitted to the FCC last week might seem just a new twist on the ongoing net neutrality fight. The document asks the agency to "confirm a consumer’s right to use Internet communications software and attach devices to wireless networks." If granted, the petition would make it easier for independent providers to offer bandwidth-intensive IP services over cellular operators’ high-speed data networks. But though Skype’s effort sounds a lot like the neutrality battle Internet companies are waging against terrestrial broadband providers, it has significant differences. Those differences will make it harder for Skype to win its goal.

    The petition argues that the agency should apply its epochal Carterfone ruling of 1968 to wireless networks. That ruling made it legal for the first time to attach equipment that didn’t belong to the phone company to the public network, as long as it didn’t damage the network. Applied to the cellular infrastructure, the ruling could among other things allow mobile users to load VoIP software like Skype’s onto any Internet-capable cellular device and make cheap or free calls via their operators’ data services, bypassing their pricey voice plans. Though it could demolish the carriers’ intricate minutes-based business models, it would be great for consumers. Skype’s argument might seem particularly potent because U.S. cellular carriers in fact restrict use of their networks far more than terrestrial operators do. "Clearly the mobile data networks are the last bastion of the walled garden," says In-Stat analyst Keith Nissen. A recent paper by net neutrality advocate Tim Wu of Columbia University Law School details a number of techniques the carriers use to maintain those walls.

    One is that they limit or prohibit use of phones they haven’t directly provided to their customers. They also cripple certain features in the phones they do allow, and restrict who can write applications for their phones and networks. They prohibit non-approved use of their data plans, and often refuse to sell unlimited data services to those who haven’t also subscribed to their premium voice plans. Overall, argues Christopher Libertelli, Skype’s senior director of government and regulatory affairs, cellular operators are deliberately restricting access to Internet applications such as Skype.

    Even if they are, though, Skype won’t have an easy time getting what it wants, for a couple of reasons. First, establishing the kind of technically transparent and commercially open wireless infrastructure it envisions would require significant changes. Its petition, in fact, suggests that the FCC establish a mechanism to create "transparent and neutral standards under which consumers can exercise their right to run the Internet communications applications of their choice." The agency established similar standards following its Carterfone decision. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Making wireless networks more hospitable to outside services and applications would be a major project. The version of net neutrality the Internet companies are pushing, by contrast, only requires maintaining the status quo by prohibiting broadband providers from changing the way they currently price their services.

    Skype’s effort also faces significant commercial and political obstacles. For one thing, cellular operators have paid the government lots of money for the spectrum they’re using. According to Ovum Research VP Roger Entner, U.S. carriers’ cumulative spectrum purchases amount to more than $150 billion. That makes it easier for them to argue that the wireless broadband pipes they’re operating should really belong only to them. "If the Skype proposal were to be granted, it would invalidate all the reasons why these carriers spent those billions of dollars," Entner states.

    Perhaps more important, there’s no significant groundswell of public opinion that might justify all the work on the part of the FCC, cellular carriers, vendors and others that Skype’s proposal would necessitate. The grass-roots clamor for terrestrial net neutrality rules stems in large part from a broad-based and urgent determination to maintain the current nature of the Internet, in which no one has to pay extra to ensure that their services get delivered with minimal delay. By contrast, the only thing that might rally users to Skype’s cause is the less-concrete argument that things could and should be better.

    That’s not to mention all the money it would take to counter the lobbying and other activities by the cellular companies and their industry organizations. CTIA, for one, responded to Skype’s petition the following day, saying the "self-interested filing contains glaring legal flaws and a complete disregard for the vast consumer benefits provided by the competitive marketplace." And although Skype now belongs to eBay, even that doesn’t give it the financial or political clout that the broader net neutrality effort, backed by Amazon, Google, Intel and Yahoo in addition to eBay, can bring to bear.

    It may be, then, that if Skype wants to bring about a form of wireless net neutrality in the U.S., its best bet will be to get its users to sign a lot of petitions and write a lot of letters to U.S. officials. Unfortunately, the vast majority of its 171 million registered users are outside the U.S. And political activity is not yet something it’s feasible to outsource.

    For more on wireless VoIP see the VoIP News Wireless Resource Center .

     

  • Rocco Fanucci says:

    Actually, I think Skyreport.com had it first:

    Coalition for 4G in America Sets Agenda

    It’s a jaunting task to take on the Federal Communications Commission – and as the saying goes, there is power in numbers. That’s why a group of seven major technology/communications companies have banded together to form the Coalition for 4G in America – an initiative focused on urging the FCC to take action on the 700 MHz auction proceeding.

    In a joint release late last night, EchoStar, DIRECTV, Intel, Yahoo! Google, Skype and Access Spectrum unwrapped their collective efforts to influence the regulatory agency with five principles aimed at affecting the proceeding.

    First, the Congressionally-mandated DTV transition must remain on track. "Any modifications to the FCC’s rules must not violate the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005, which establishes Feb. 17, 2009, as the hard date for the DTV transition and Jan. 28, 2008, as the deadline for the auction of the 60 MHz of commercial spectrum in the 700 MHz band," the group said.

    Second, the Broadband Optimization Plan (BOP) should be adopted promptly. "Prompt action would ensure compliance with the statutory deadlines in the DTV Act, and would allow both public safety and commercial entities to begin to plan now for systems to be deployed based on BOP upon completion of the DTV transition," the Coalition said. "Adoption of BOP also would enable more flexible choice of broadband technologies in the spectrum allocated to public safety."

    Third, the 15 MHz paired commercial allocation in the upper 700 band should be re-configured into a 16.5 MHz paired allocation. "The use of 5.5 MHz ‘building blocks’ gives an immediate 10 percent increase in bandwidth (which) allows more capable next generation broadband network performance," the group said. "Locating the paired 5.5 MHz commercial block directly adjacent to public safety’s paired 5.5 MHz broadband block would better enable public-private partnerships and lead to potential cost savings for public safety."

    Fourth, package bidding should be used in the upper and lower 700 MHz band. "The use of package bidding and the proposed licensing scheme facilitates more efficient geographic and bandwidth aggregation, such that bidders could easily sum to REAGs, or nationwide licenses. The use of package bidding and this licensing scheme would promote new entry by permitting flexible business plans and preventing a company from blocking nationwide entry simply by acquiring one regional license."

    And lastly, two sided auctions should be used to enable the aggregation of the upper 700 MHz commercial blocks in a singly, more efficient auction.

  • Rocco Fanucci says:

    Interesting piece on arstechnica.com. Here’s the AP story:

    FCC Testing Web-Over-Airwaves Device

    FCC to Issue Findings in July on Whether Unused TV Airwaves Can Be Used for Web Service

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Communications Commission is expected to release findings this summer on whether a new device can deliver high-speed Internet service over unused airwaves without disrupting television programming.

    Scott Blake Harris, the attorney for a coalition of technology companies that developed the device, said Tuesday the FCC is expected to issue its test results by July.

    He said the regulatory agency could then adopt final rules by October.

    The FCC did not confirm the timetable.

    The coalition, which includes Microsoft Corp., Google Inc., Dell Inc. and others, wants the agency to open up unlicensed and unused TV spectrum, also known as "white spaces," for broadband Internet service.

    However, TV broadcasters are unconvinced the device will work and said if the new technology is approved it could also cause problems with their federally mandated transition from analog to digital signals in early 2009.

    If the device passes muster and rules are adopted for spectrum usage, Harris said the agency could start certifying similar devices in December. That means manufacturers of the devices must show their technology conforms to the agency’s rule.

    However, such devices would not go on sale until February 2009, he added.

    The coalition, which submitted the prototype about two weeks ago, said using the white spaces would spur technological innovation and help provide affordable broadband service to millions of Americans, especially in rural communities.

  • Anonymous says:

    From today’s New York Times, on the first business page, a comprehensive piece on what this is all about:

    Hot Spectrum Draws Cash, and Ideals

     

    By JOHN MARKOFF

     

     SAN FRANCISCO, March 25 — It is referred to as the last beachfront property in the wireless world — a prized swath of spectrum that is about to be sold at federal auction. And it has touched off an intense lobbying effort pitting cellular companies against a variety of new players interested in the potential of a next-generation mobile Internet.

     

    The Federal Communications Commission will set the rules for the auction, possibly as soon as next month. Depending on that ruling, the spectrum could be used for voice services for cellular carriers, new frequencies for emergency responders, or a commercial high-speed broadband multimedia network.

     

     

    Among those trying to influence the outcome are three of the nation’s four largest cellular providers, rural and regional wireless carriers, cable and satellite television companies and a range of technology companies — including Google and Yahoo.

     

     Along with other wireless technology proposals, the auction could reshape the debate over who controls access to the networks that deliver digital content to consumers. Opening the door to more network competition nationally could have a tremendous economic impact.

     

    “This offers the potential for a real game changer in broadband spectrum,” said John M. R. Kneuer, assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department. “It can both generate new innovation and lower prices.”

     

     The airwaves in question are in the 700-megahertz band, a segment used until now for UHF television but freed up by the move to digital broadcasting. Unless Congress reverses itself, those frequencies are scheduled to be reclaimed by the government and reallocated for public safety and commercial broadband networks on Feb. 19, 2009.

     

    Mr. Kneuer points out that because the new band is at a lower frequency than today’s cellular and digital wireless services, it has a far greater range as well as the ability to penetrate the walls of homes and office buildings more effectively.

     

     

    That could enable a new entrant to build out a broadband service dedicated to mobile devices — a sector considered to have greater growth potential than conventional voice services. This could be done quickly and relatively inexpensively with just a few transmission towers and then filled in with additional capacity as new customers join the network.

     

     

    “This is the realization of a truly national wireless Internet,” said Reed E. Hundt, a former F.C.C. chairman.

     

     

    Last month Mr. Hundt launched a Washington-based organization called Frontline Wireless and filed a proposal with the F.C.C. to create an “open access” network intended to support both public safety services and the creation of a system to offer wholesale broadband network service.

     

     

    Unlike the current practice of American cellular companies, which lock customers’ handsets to a particular carrier, Mr. Hundt’s network envisions a system that would let a consumer connect a device like an Apple iPhone or a Palm hand-held device upon purchasing the device at a store like Best Buy.

     

     

    Mr. Hundt said Frontline had begun building an investor group to take part in the auction, which could begin as early as this summer. Significantly, the company’s first identified investor is K. Ram Shriram, an early Google investor and current board member, and managing partner of Sherpalo Ventures.

     

     

    Earlier this month Google also helped create a lobbying group called Alliance for 4-G America, with partners including Yahoo, EchoStar Communications, DirecTV, Intel and Skype, in an effort to influence the F.C.C.’s rule-making for the auction.

     

     

    Several industry executives and analysts said it was unlikely that Google or Yahoo would directly take part in bidding for the new wireless spectrum, for fear of antagonizing communications companies by competing directly with them. But both companies are intensely interested in persuading the F.C.C. not to give advantages to the wireless incumbents in the bidding process.

     

     

    Google, Yahoo and other Internet companies are worried about the ability of large cable and telephone companies to restrict certain types of Internet traffic, or to give priority service to some content providers over others, possibly for a fee. Companies like AT&T and Verizon have responded that such measures might be necessary to protect their investments in broadband networks.

     

     

    Industry executives have said that Verizon Wireless or other cellular companies might be willing to spend billions of dollars for the spectrum simply to block competitors, or possibly for voice applications intended to help the national cellular companies compete more effectively against smaller regional and local cellular firms.

     

     Several analysts cautioned that upstart bidders might be hard pressed to compete against the incumbents, which have vast cash reserves.

     

    “Silicon Valley bidders have deep pockets, but it would be very outside-the-box and high-risk for them,” said Kevin M. Roe, a telecommunications analyst at Roe Equity Research in New York. “Not only do you need the money to buy the spectrum, but you have to build a network — and that would be a gargantuan task that would take years with no guarantees they could catch up with the big four national operators.”

     

     

    A Verizon spokesman said the company was interested in the potential offered by the 700-megahertz frequencies but had not yet committed to enter any auction for the spectrum. The company executive also noted that it was still possible that legislation might emerge from Congress that would again delay the digital television and set back an auction date.

     

     

    But because the auction could generate as much as $10 billion to $30 billion for the United States Treasury, some policy analysts said they were concerned that the auction process might trump the broader impact that new wireless services or technologies might have on the economy.

     

     

    “This spectrum could catalyze tremendous innovation,” said Kevin Werbach, assistant professor of legal studies at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. “However, if the auction process is focused on raising the most amount of money for the government, it might prove counterproductive for the larger economic interests of the country.”

     

     

    That may be particularly true for a related proposal recently put forward by a separate coalition also including Google, as well as Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Royal Philips Electronics. Earlier this month, the group gave a prototype device to the F.C.C. that they said would be used to build a next-generation wireless network that would have greater range and better performance than the current generation of technology known as Wi-Fi.

     

     

    The new service would fall within existing television bands, but would use smart radio techniques to avoid interfering with local television channels.

     

     

    “We think this has the economic potential of the Wi-Fi industry or even more,” said Scott Blake Harris, a Washington lawyer who represents the group.

     

     

    The regulatory situation is clouded by competing proposals for the use of the 700-megahertz band as well as a range of other frequencies. For example, Morgan O’Brien, a founder of Nextel, last year formed Cyren Call Communications, which petitioned the F.C.C. for an alternative use for that band for public safety services. While that proposal was rejected by the commission, Cyren Call is still trying to win Congressional support for the idea.

     

     Separately, last May, Silicon Valley-based M2Z Networks petitioned the F.C.C. for spectrum to build a freely available nationwide broadband network at the higher frequency of 2.155 gigahertz.

     

     

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