(Amol Sarva, Ph.D., was a founder of Virgin Mobile USA and co-founder and chief executive of Txtbl. On the issue of wireless spectrum, he is leader of a group trying to offset the influence of the largest wireless companies, such as Verizon).
It’s that time again. Spectrum auctions coming up. But this time there could be a twist. In the next few weeks, the FCC will make a decision with tremendous impact on the venture community’s potential to create innovative new wireless services and products.
It’s so important that 15 of us fellow wireless venture entrepreneurs– the Wireless Founders Coalition for Innovation — sent a letter last week to the Chairman of the FCC advocating “open access” as central to the upcoming the 700 MHz spectrum auction.
As founders of companies like Virgin Mobile, Zingy, Vindigo, Palm, Seven, Omnisky, Aliph, Penthera, and Soonr, we know that wireless is a tough but rewarding area to innovate. We have had lots of success working within the current system. But an open access structure would make wireless as an industry more like the Internet, opening the door to smaller bets from unproven entrepreneurs with disruptive ideas.
The open access proposal concerns how the valuable “television” E block spectrum will be offered. What the FCC decides will determine whether this auction will go in the usual way where the few existing players end up controlling it exclusively, or whether a piece of the spectrum will be set up as an open band where innovators like us can create and trial services easily, offering them directly to customers.
I have been through the experience of creating mobile services that can only reach market through collaboration with the carriers, as a founder of Virgin Mobile, Blue Mobile and now Txtbl. I know you have been through similar experiences. It can be rewarding to make it work, but I believe that an open framework would be superior.
There is a group advocating an open approach called Frontline Wireless. Frontline is headed by industry veterans and Reed Hundt, and supported by Ram Shriram (see his VentureBeat column), John Doerr, Google, Skype and other Internet leaders. We wrote a letter supporting some of the key themes in their proposal:
Open Services: An Open Services rule would require that the E Block service provider allow customers to access “over the top” Internet-style applications of all kinds.
Open Devices: This would ensure that users can connect any device of their choosing to their wireless network, provided it meets certain publicly specified technical standards.
Open Auction: Make a portion of the E Block wholesale capacity available to all comers via an auction that will ensure a range of new MVNO opportunities at fair and transparent market-clearing prices.
If you think this makes sense, add yourself to the list. Look at the Wireless Founders Coalition letter at www.txtbl.com/wfc.html and email me (please provide your name, company affiliation and proper email address) to tell us you are in firstname.lastname@example.org . It will have an impact – the Senate Commerce Committee is holding hearings this week, they saw our letter, and we have been invited to appear. We’ll follow up to let you know the response we get. Also, feel free to provide your thoughts in comments below.