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FCC Chair Takes Open Internet Message to CTIA

The head of the Federal Communications Commission took his message about the need for open networks into hostile territory today, delivering a keynote at a conference hosted by CTIA, the leading trade association representing the wireless industry.

Although he didn't use the term, wireless Net neutrality is one part of the mobile broadband agenda FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced today in his speech at CTIA's conference in San Diego.

"As we embrace the opportunities of a wired and wireless broadband world, we shouldn't have uncertainty about whether we'll have an open Internet," Genachowski said in prepared remarks. "There shouldn't be any confusion. I believe firmly in the need for the FCC to preserve Internet openness, whether a person accesses the Internet from a desktop computer or a wireless laptop or netbook."

Without backing down from his commitment to Net neutrality, Genachowski tried to strike a conciliatory tone, reminding the audience of his experience in the private sector and pledging a fair, fact-based inquiry as the commission mulls new wireless regulations.

"Communications technologies are complex and changing rapidly, nowhere more than mobile, and my time in business has convinced me that the last thing we want is heavy-handed and prescriptive regulation," he said. "Our goal is to empower innovators, not lawyers."

He also said that he was sensitive to the "unique congestion issues" mobile operators face, and that he would account for the nuances of the wireless sector when developing the FCC's rulemaking proceeding, which the commission is due to put to a vote later this month.

"In looking at wired and wireless Internet access, some have said that 'one size doesn't fit all.' I agree," Genachowski said.

He also pointed to some encouraging moves toward openness recently made by prominent players in the industry. Genachowski praised AT&T (NYSE: T) for its announcement yesterday that it would allow iPhone users to access VoIP provider Skype on its 3G network. He also had kind words for Verizon (NYSE: VZ), which unveiled a major partnership with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to develop the open source Android platform.

"These are both wins for consumers," Genachowski said.

Other planks of the mobile broadband agenda he announced today were less controversial.

Genachowski spoke of his determination to reform the FCC's policies governing wireless spectrum, pledging to develop new ways to open access to what he called the "oxygen of our mobile networks."

In the comments the agency has been collecting about broadband and the wireless industry, respondents have consistently expressed the need for more spectrum to support the explosion of data traveling across mobile networks.

Genachowski said he was committed to developing new methods of spectrum management, such as looking to secondary markets and flexible, unlicensed allocations.

But simply doing more with less won't be enough to solve the "looming spectrum crisis," he added, saying that he plans to search for inefficient uses in the current spectrum regime and open new chunks of the airwaves for wireless broadband.

"As this audience knows, it takes years to reallocate spectrum and put it to use. And there are no easy pickings on the spectrum chart," Genachowski said. "But we have no choice. We must identify spectrum that can best be reinvested in mobile broadband."

He added, "I believe one of the FCC's highest priorities is to close the spectrum gap."

Other planks of the mobile broadband agenda Genachowski announced today included removing roadblocks to carriers rolling out their 4G networks and promoting consumer welfare by ensuring competition in the wireless industry and greater transparency in the disclosures made to consumers.