Law in the Internet Society

A proposal to live in a free mobile telecommunications world

-- By DiegodelaPuente - 29 Sep 2011

1. Open your mind

By the end of 2010 there were approximately 5.3 billion mobile subscribers according to the International Telecommunication Union. This reflects that mobile network owners have an immense control and power over the life of millions who must submit to their wills and rules. Therefore, I argue that the actual scheme must be changed in society's favor and that technology advances are the way to achieve it. Unfortunately, mobile network operators and the U.S. government have opposed any change to the actual scheme through the years.

Nowadays, the most used technology to perform phone calls by advanced mobile operators and phone service providers over the Internet, such as Skype, is Voice over IP (VoIP? ), also called Internet Telephony, which transforms voice into data packets that travel through the Internet to its destination. Given this, it is technically possible that we do not need mobile network operators to process our phone calls if we can be connected to a giant Wi-Fi network and have Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices.

2. How to achieve the change?

My proposal is to use of Wi-Fi enabled VoIP? phones under super Wi-Fi environments, which is coherent with actual's trend to shift from voice towards data. However, mobile network operators have opposed Wi-Fi environment's promotion and related discoveries, because they considered that it would represent a serious threat for their voice revenues. For example, 2010 AT&T's and Sprint's voice revenue were US$28,315 millions and 2,249 millions, respectively.

2.1 Super Wi-Fi networks

Super Wi-Fi network is the concept of turning entire cities into wireless access zones by means of wireless mesh networks. A mesh in this concept is a series of radio transmitters that are able to communicate with at least two others, creating a cloud of radio signals around a city. Municipal Wireless Networks are among the most discussed projects in this field during the past years. Many local governments around the world have done various initiatives to build citywide Wi-Fi networks and fortunately some of them had been successfully deployed. Even so, it is true that this project requires technological improvements to obtain a high quality product, since poor quality or lose of signal can be generated by immense amount of traffic in the bandwidth or by bad climate conditions, as well as by limited signal strength. Regarding the latter, the possibility to use higher power levels is needed to penetrate buildings and cover large populated areas; therefore, only a change in the current regulatory framework could allow this to happen.

In respect to the financial matters, the business model of local governments may vary between projects, but generally the service is rendered based on a fixed minimum payment that is proportionally divided according to each citizen’s income and that could be paid monthly or jointly with the annual tax payment. Then, the consumer’s economical advantage over this scheme is the possibility to make local and long distance calls by just paying a minimum fixed fee for high-speed Internet access.

In spite of these positive attributes, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opposed this scheme due to their concern for the possibility of generating (i) unfair competition among private and public sectors in the wireless industry and (ii) harmful interferences to local TV stations. The U.S. government dramatically changed its position on this topic when in 2006 FTC listed Wi-Fi first on its list of major technologies used to provide citywide wireless Internet access; in 2010 FCC, in its National Broadband Plan, referred to Wi-Fi only as an important complement to licensed fixed and mobile networks. What happened between these years was a great pressure from mobile telecommunications companies, so much so that even several states passed laws restricting public Wi-Fi. Moreover, some courts, deferring to FCC’s interpretation, have ascertained that it has the regulatory authority over wireless Internet access points mounted on utility poles. This is another legal barrier to avoid the deployment of citywide Wi-Fi networks, because of its power to change the actual standards.

2.2 Wi-Fi Phones

Wi-Fi enabled phones, like computers, use VoIP technology to make calls. This means that they do not need to be supported over the classical mobile networks architecture, they only need to be in a Wi-Fi covered area to function. However, user’s experience under this new environment will be different for the moment, since Internet routing is more unstable and slower than traditional mobile network routing when persons are moving. Moreover, mobile companies rejection of super Wi-Fi networks has delayed pure Wi-Fi phones’ production and the development of advanced Wi-Fi software that can be installed in actual GSM, CDMA or WCDMA devices. In that order of ideas, once the construction of super Wi-Fi networks starts in large scales, the most important manufactures of mobile devices are going to turn towards this new field and build new mobile phones that will be supported by the Internet network.

3. Conclusion

We have identified that freedom does not exist with today’s mobile network operators; therefore, unless we foster the modification of current telecom regulatory policies, this situation will remain for many years, because it favors both mobile operators and the U.S. government. We must not forget that telecommunications history in the U.S. reveals that governments have relied on private mobile networks, such as AT&T, to render phone services and build nationwide telecom infrastructures. We need to battle against that relationship and break it, proving that there are alternatives, such as the one discussed herein that could benefit the society and generate progress in a better way than by means of using mobile network operators to provide mobile telecommunication services.

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r24 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:15 - IanSullivan
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