Free iPhone Campaign Launches, Open Access Battle Gears Up - InformationWeek

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Free iPhone Campaign Launches, Open Access Battle Gears Up

Free Press pressures Congress and the FCC to require that mobile devices will work with any wireless network, in advance of the upcoming wireless spectrum auction.

As Free Press and others push their new "Free the iPhone" campaign, policy-makers and regulators are weighing in on open access in the mobile technology arena, and all sides appear to be gearing up for battle.

Free Press announced a Free the iPhone campaign Friday. The group, which lobbies against media consolidation, wants Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to say it wants the device and others like it to work on any wireless network.

"Bad policies have created an unhealthy wireless industry where companies like AT&T and Verizon are gatekeepers over the mobile Internet with the power to block competition and chain devices to their slow-speed networks," Free Press explained in a prepared statement.

In addition to requiring that mobile devices work with any carrier, the group wants to ensure that consumers can access any content or services through their devices and to require competition among providers.

"This issue goes well beyond the iPhone," Timothy Karr, Free Press campaign director, said in a prepared statement. "It's about a dysfunctional wireless system that stifles innovation and competition across the country. We need real open access, which opens networks for innovation and wholesale markets for competition. Until we have this, the iPhone -- and other innovative gadgets like it -- will never reach full potential."

The new campaign features a logo with the iPhone shackled to a ball (that looks like AT&T's logo) and chain. Organizers are urging the public to donate and write to Congress, the FCC, and others who will support the effort.

Apple has said it chose AT&T to provide iPhone service because it is the best and most popular wireless network in the United States and because GSM is the "overwhelming" global standard.

Free Press -- which claims a nonpartisan mission and open donor funding but is backed by many who lean left -- announced the "Free the iPhone" campaign just after the House Committee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing on wireless technology. Chairman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the iPhone embodies both the strengths and weaknesses in wireless technology.

The FCC's plans to auction off wireless spectrum also have drawn recent attention to wireless interoperability and openness. Last week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin floated his ideas for auction rules. His proposal, which has not been publicly released, calls for public airwaves to be open for all devices.

Free Press, some other public interest groups, and even a few technology companies have criticized Martin's proposal, which opens access to a portion of the spectrum. Critics say it does not open the network to wholesale competition.

"What Chairman Martin is proposing isn't true open access, and it won't create the broadband competition we need," S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press, said in a prepared statement. "Martin's plan to unlock devices still leaves us with the same few companies that are trying to undercut competition, and whose broken promises on broadband deployment and innovation have left us with a slow, expensive network and a vast digital divide."

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