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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday at its open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission opened a proceeding to consider interference claims and interoperability requirements for the Lower 700 MHz spectrum band. Congress and the FCC reclaimed these airwaves from TV broadcasters and then auctioned them off to mobile providers in 2008. Since then, large carriers have started using the rights they won in that auction. While doing so, providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have demanded that manufacturers like Apple customize their devices for exclusive use on their respective networks. For example, recent reports confirm that the new iPad cannot work on both AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE networks. Analysts speculate that Apple made this design choice at the carriers' behest. Such actions diminish consumer choice and increase costs for other competitors in the wireless market.

Incumbent carriers have claimed that interference among their networks precludes the creation of wholly compatible devices. The FCC's proceeding will assess whether these interference claims are valid. The agency should determine the best methods, based on solid engineering data and analysis, to overcome any remaining technical issues. The rulemaking stems from the pledge to explore interoperability rules that the Commission made when it approved AT&T's acquisition of Qualcomm 700 MHz holdings.

Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:

"We hope and trust that the process begun today will lead to sensible interoperability requirements for the Lower 700 MHz band and beyond. Such rules could address any legitimate technical issues but should still prevent AT&T and Verizon from dividing this prime mobile broadband spectrum into exclusive technological enclaves. Waiting for the wireless industry to solve this problem on its own seems a vain exercise when we have already been waiting four years for such solutions, and none have been forthcoming from these duopoly providers.

"When U.S. consumers lined up for new 4G, LTE-enabled iPads last week, they faced a familiar if unwelcome choice among carriers. That doesn't mean choosing the wireless provider that offers the best service in the customer's view, but literally just picking the carrier on whose network a device will even function. Manufacturers like Apple produce two incompatible versions of the same product for the U.S. market — an AT&T-only iPad and a Verizon-only iPad — that have different types of radios built into them. Unwilling to bank solely on their ability to lock down customers and handsets by means of exclusive contracts, AT&T and Verizon have used their market clout to hardwire exclusivity into the devices.

"A large part of LTE's promise was the unification of technical standards. Those standards should give consumers the chance to switch providers without discarding their old phones or tablets, and give more carriers the chance to compete by offering cutting-edge devices. That has started to pay off in places like Canada, where large carriers all use the same type of spectrum and compatible radios for iPads and their other new LTE offerings. The promise can pay dividends here too so long as the Commission finishes the work it starts today."

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