I’ve always thought it bothersome that I can’t continue to use my Nextel phone if I were to switch carriers. Well – in theory I’ve though this. Because my phone was destroyed years ago, and replaced with a second-hand phone from one of my friends, which is now on its last legs, too. I don’t buy new phones every six months, because frankly, I have better things to do with $300. But I’d like to see, of course, a more competitive market where phones and features are compatible (e.g., if my Nextel direct-connect was compatible with Verizon’s or Cingular’s push-to-talk, etc.) Spectrum stands in the way, though. But the FCC has a not-so-novel “solution” to “open” new spectrum:
The FCC is requiring the winner of about one-third of the spectrum being sold to let consumers buy any cellphone or other wireless device and use it on the broadband network that is eventually built. Cellular companies now sell phones and service as a package, limiting the types of devices customers can use.
But the FCC is basically responsible for establishing and maintaining the quagmire of overlapping and incompatible networks to which we’ve grown attached. One reason why it remains profitable for a company to limit access on its portion of the spectrum to certain devices is because of the licensure requirements, which grant a sort of monopoly privilege to the existing carriers. Here is the non-bureaucratic solution. Drop the presumption that the government owns spectrum as a public good. It’s certainly excludable. With that out of the way, all that’s left is to just open the spectrum and let nature take its course. I don’t know whether an open spectrum would permit me to use my Nextel phone even if I switch carriers to Verizon – but I know that its more likely to happen with an open spectrum than one where the FCC and incumbent licensees act as gatekeepers.