Spectrum

When we talk about spectrum, we’re talking about the channels and frequencies used to transmit signals to your phone, your tablet, your TV or any wireless device.

Both established companies and startups have long vied for access to these public airwaves, which are a precious national resource. Mobile phone companies, radio and TV broadcasters, satellite operators, Wi-Fi networks, first responders and private companies with their own radio systems all use different swaths of spectrum.

While broadcasters and mobile phone companies have government-issued licenses for certain portions of the airwaves, other swaths are open, meaning that any company can develop a product —like a cordless home phone, Bluetooth headset, baby monitor or remote control — that utilizes this open space without any need for a government license.

Broadcasters and mobile phone companies have licenses for most of the best spectrum. But advances in technology have made it possible for all of us to access the airwaves through community networks, Wi-Fi signals, innovative new devices and other more localized access points.

As new technology enables more efficient spectrum use, freed-up airwaves can be used to provide high-speed Internet access. They have the potential to unleash the mobile Web, bridge the digital divide and provide universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans.

To help the next generation of wireless technology take root, we need to ensure that spectrum held by companies like AT&T and Verizon is put to use in the public interest — and we need to make more spectrum available outside these companies’ control.

 

Blog Posts

  • Free Press Action Fund's Matt Wood Tells the Senate to Boost Wireless Competition

    February 26, 2014
    There’s a reason your cellphone bill gives you heart palpitations every month: There’s hardly any competition in the U.S. wireless market. And on Wednesday, Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood testified before the Senate and urged it to promote competition and protect consumers.
  • Scandalous Privatization of Noncommercial TV Spectrum

    June 20, 2013
    About 20 percent of the hugely valuable TV spectrum — slated for auction in 2014 — is reserved for noncommercial stations. Only noncommercial stations (mostly owned by universities and community nonprofits) can operate on this spectrum, and when these institutions sell, they must sell to other eligible noncommercial operators.
  • Who Owns the Media? Obama's Next FCC Chairman

    May 21, 2013
    When President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler as the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, he praised him as the "Bo Jackson of telecom" — because he's been an all-star in two industries.
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Actions

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Press Releases

  • Free Press Action Fund Testifies in Senate: Give Wireless Users More Control

    February 26, 2014

    WASHINGTON — Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood will testify before Congress today that the little competition that exists in the U.S. wireless market is a result of smart intervention from antitrust authorities and the Federal Communications Commission. 

  • Free Press Blasts Wireless Companies' Plan to Favor Some Traffic

    May 15, 2013
    WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told a group of investors that he expects content providers and app developers to pay him to keep their traffic from counting against mobile data caps. This follows earlier news that Verizon Wireless was in talks with ESPN to get the sports network paying the carrier so that ESPN content would not count against monthly limits.
  • Free Press Applauds Department of Justice Letter on Wireless Competition

    April 12, 2013

    WASHINGTON - On Thursday the Department of Justice Antitrust Division sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling on the agency to adopt "rules that ensure the smaller nationwide networks, which currently lack substantial low-frequency spectrum, have an opportunity to acquire such spectrum." The letter’s authors wrote, these rules "could improve the competitive dynamic among nationwide carriers and benefit consumers."
     

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Resources

  • Six Priorities for the Wheeler FCC

    As Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly arrive at the Federal Communications Commission, they face historic challenges and opportunities to shape the ways we connect and communicate for decades to come.

    Here’s how the FCC should ensure that our public network and public airwaves provide better choices and more voices — by maintaining universal communications service, increasing media diversity, supporting local news and emphasizing political transparency.

    November 6, 2013
  • Public Interest Incentive Auction Letter

    Free Press, National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation, Public Knowledge and Writers Guild of America West sent a letter to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to urge the Committee to ensure that all providers have a meaningful chance to participate in the upcoming spectrum auctions.

    July 23, 2013
  • Free Press, Consumers Union and New America Foundation Reply Comments on Interoperability

    Consumers Union, Free Press, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge (“Public Interest Commenters”) respectfully submit these Reply Comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s 700 MHz Band Interoperability Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released on March 21, 2012.

    July 23, 2012
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News from Around the Web

  • FCC to Free Airwaves for Wi-Fi and Wireless Broadband

    New York Times
    April 4, 2014

    The Federal Communications Commission approved measures that will free up more airwaves for Wi-Fi and wireless broadband. The agency also moved to help curb increasing cable rates for consumers, but in doing so cracked down hard on the ability of broadcast stations to negotiate jointly in competition with cable systems.

  • FCC's Choice: Lock Down Innovation or Unleash Competition

    The Hill
    March 20, 2014

    Will the FCC further entrench and enrich the wireless oligarchs by eliminating or downsizing new unlicensed spectrum? Or will it opt for the greater good and sustain its 2008 bipartisan, pro-competition vision of open and shared unlicensed spectrum? Stay tuned.

  • Verizon, Cable Companies Now 'Frenemies,' Can Sell Each Other's Products

    Ars Technica
    August 27, 2012

    The FCC approved Verizon Wireless's deal to purchase lots of wireless spectrum from cable companies, while imposing limits onto a related deal in which Verizon and the cable companies will resell each other's services.

Learn More

  • Broadband

    Access to high-speed Internet service — also known as broadband — is a basic public necessity, just like water or electricity.

    Yet despite its importance, broadband access in the United States is far from universal. Millions of Americans still stand on the wrong side of the "digital divide," unable to tap into the political, economic and social resources of the Internet.

  • Cable

    Two decades ago, something unusual happened.

    Consumers were irate about their cable bills, which were increasing at nearly three times the rate of inflation. And Congress actually did something — adopting in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion the 1992 Cable Act. The law resulted in lower cable bills, saving consumers $3 billion in just over a year’s time.

  • Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger

    On Feb. 13, Comcast announced its bid to buy its chief rival, Time Warner Cable. If approved, this deal would create a television and Internet colossus like no other.

    Comcast is the country’s #1 cable and Internet company and Time Warner Cable is #2. They both regularly rank at the bottom of the barrel in customer-service surveys. Put them together and you get one subpar giant offering service to two-thirds of U.S. homes.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good