Docs Want Their Own Airwaves and Other Gems From the FCC Wireless Probe

[qi:061] So far this week, more than 15 organizations have filed their comments addressing the Federal Communications Commission inquiry about competition and innovation in the wireless industry, and they’re pretty much what one would expect. The major wireless carriers go to great lengths to tout their competitiveness and overall innovation, with Sprint (s S) dissenting a bit and calling for special access reform so it doesn’t have to pay as much to AT&T (s T) and Verizon (s vz) for backhaul.

All of the wireless providers spent a great deal of time talking about how important the network is, praising the FCC for its foresight in making the 700 MHz spectrum available, asking for more spectrum, and implying that any move towards a more open network or even open devices would stall the carriers’ business model and result in confusion among consumers who would be forced to choose what device they want to run on which network. Apparently, consumers prefer a “highly integrated” experience between their handsets, applications and the network, according to AT&T.

Meanwhile, some consumer groups have told the FCC that texting rates are too high, handset exclusivity is bad, early termination fees restrict consumers, and investment in networks has not kept pace with demand. In addition to the usual players, a variety of special interest groups, such as the American Telemedicine Association, make note of how their particular interests might be served. After reading a few hundred pages of the filings, I discovered a few interesting ideas for wireless innovation — and some astonishing items:

  • Vodafone writes in its submission that protectionism is bad, but notes that, “A particular challenge for the wireless sector today is the sustainability of [a] competitive supply of wireless network infrastructure, where many U.S. and European suppliers currently face acute financial pressures.” Are fears over ZTE and Huawei as the sole suppliers keeping Vodafone up at night?
  • In its filing, AT&T used words from arch-nemesis Google (s goog) to defend network operators’ continued spending on wireless infrastructure: “As Google’s Eric Schmidt has stressed, ‘It’s very, very important that the telecom operators have enough capital to continue the build-outs of the so-called 3G and 4G networks.'” The company didn’t, however, commend Google’s stance on network neutrality.
  • The Public Interest Commenters, a group of nonprofits, suggests, “The Commission should consider in the ‘Mobile Wireless Competition Report’ the impact of concentrated spectrum holdings on entry and growth of competitive providers, and should not hesitate to consider readopting spectrum caps if and when necessary.” It also wants the FCC to collect its own data rather than rely on stats from American Roamer for its future reports.
  • The American Telemedicine Association asked the FCC to do two things: set aside spectrum solely for use by medical professionals, and expand the existing wireless priority service for health care providers beyond the focus on emergency response during times of disaster or major service disruptions. This means doctors using a wireless phone to care for their patients can be sure their call will not be dropped. It also means ambulances using wireless communications should have priority for bandwidth.

Of course, folks have until Oct. 12 to submit more comments, and I can’t wait to get Google’s or Apple’s take on innovation in the industry, so we’ll keep an eye on the filings to see where the FCC may go from here.