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Obama announces wireless plan in Northern Michigan, gives away more of the public commons

February 11, 2011

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama was in Marquette, Michigan to promote his new plan to “create jobs” by expanding high-speed wireless to more of the country.

An Associated Press story stated, “Obama’s wireless plan involves nearly doubling the space available on the airwaves for wireless high-speed Internet traffic to keep up with ever-growing demand. This would be accomplished in part by auctioning off space on the radio spectrum to commercial wireless carriers. The White House says this would raise nearly $30 billion over 10 years, and the money could be spent on initiatives that include $10 billion to develop a national broadband network for public safety agencies and $5 billion for infrastructure to help rural areas access high-speed wireless.

So it seems that the President wants to give away more of the public spectrum to large private media companies who have a long track record of not operating in the public interest. If there is lots of available public spectrum, why not just make that part of the Commons and allow the public to use it?

The national media policy organization Free Press responded to the President’s announcement:

“While we are pleased to see the president focusing on our nation’s broadband challenges, we are concerned that the public interest is being overlooked in this proposal to sell more of our public airwaves to wireless companies like AT&T and Verizon. These industry giants are already building out their networks and expanding coverage, and they don’t need a handout from the federal government to achieve the president’s goals.

Further, the president’s proposal does not contain any policies that would encourage people to adopt broadband. Studies have shown that if you build it, they may not come. According to the FCC’s own data, 98 percent of households in the United States already have access to wireless broadband service, while less than one-third subscribe to it.

If Americans are being asked to give up more of our public airwaves to private industry, we should see a real benefit. Our nation is falling behind the rest of the world in broadband quality and adoption, symptoms of the woeful state of competition in our communications markets. Unfortunately, the president’s plan fails to address these very real problems and offers no policies that would create real competition, spur innovation and help Americans get connected.

If we don’t seriously consider policies that would help Americans get online, we won’t be winning the future. We’ll be selling it short. And we’ll be locking in the uncompetitive wireless market and stranding tens of millions of Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Just the most recent example of the administration’s subservience to private corporations instead of serving the public interest.


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