The Internet Revolution is in the Air

Few of you are likely aware that the future of communications in our country rests on a seemingly arcane decision on how we sell off soon-to-be vacated TV airwaves. This public "spectrum" has the capacity to deliver high-speed Internet signals almost everywhere in the country.

The Federal Communications Commission will decide very soon how this chunk of air is to be auctioned off and used after TV stations go digital. The government hopes that revenues from the sale (anticipated to be as high as $30 billion) will help pay down the national deficit, especially high since we went to War in Iraq.

Yesterday, many members of the Coalition came forward with a proposal: Let's use these airwaves to make the Internet more neutral, open and affordable for everyone.

Most people haven't heard about this issue, or know that such valuable airwaves are up for grabs. But it is important stuff.

Here's where things stand:

Broadcast television channels will soon vacate publicly owned airwaves when TV stations are required to go digital by 2009.

Right now, the Federal Communications Commission is deciding how to structure an upcoming auction of these airwaves.

If used right, this new spectrum could revolutionize the ways we connect to one another -- and to laptops, cell phones, PDAs, music players and other mobile Internet devices. It can also deliver a wireless Internet into your house without the need for a telephone wire or cable modem.

Its signal passes through concrete buildings and over mountains; and can connect tens of million of Americans that are now ignored by wire-line Internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

Phone and cable lobbyists are pressuring the FCC to hand over our airwaves to their bosses at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. They plan to horde spectrum and stifle competitive and cheaper alternatives to their legacy networks.

This would be a disaster. After years of phone and cable company control over its Internet marketplace, the United States has fallen to 15th in the world in high-speed Internet rankings, with few choices and some of the highest prices for the slowest speeds in the world. We will continue to fall as long as we let phone and cable execs dictate Internet access for more than 96 percent of American users.

It's really important that we spread the word and get more people involved in telling the FCC how our spectrum should be used.

We don't want more of the same. These airwaves should be employed for the public good. They should be used to develop a wireless alternative to the telephone-cable market grab.

Yesterday, some member groups -- including Consumer Federation of America, Free Press, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and US PIRG -- urged the FCC "to ensure that new spectrum is offered on an open and nondiscriminatory basis." (You can read their full filing by clicking here.)

With open networks, the rest of the world has rapidly adopted high-speed, Internet platforms for education, economic innovation, creativity and civic participation. Countries like South Korea, Japan, France and Canada have leapfrogged the United States and now offer faster Internet connections at far lower prices.

It's time we caught up.

>> To learn more about the upcoming auction, read these recent articles in Wired Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Forbes Magazine and MyDD.