By Erik Dolson
The auction of my airwaves started today. I’m upset.
Actually, the auction was of “spectrum,” that is, the radio frequencies needed mostly for new 5G cell phone networks. And it’s actually a sale of the right to “use” bits of this spectrum, also known as the “C” band.
It will surprise no one that the main bidders will be AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and with Comcast and Charter Communications teaming up. There are others, but those are the main players and are expected to bid between $30 billion and $51 billion.
So what’s my problem, anyway, with such a lucrative deal?
Well, to begin with, it’s been heavily pushed by FCC chair Ajit Pai, once a lawyer for Verizon and who has announced his retirement in January when Biden takes office (to go back to work for Verizon?). This is the same man who opposed “net neutrality” laws guaranteeing everyone equal access to all information. He’s led other, anti-consumer efforts that favor big business.
Secondly, I’m not getting enough for my share of the spectrum being sold. I figure that if the spectrum goes for, say, $40 billion, I’m entitled to about $108. That’s about two months of cell phone bills. And yet, the companies buying that spectrum get to keep it forever!
That’s the problem with selling pieces of “the commons.” It’s a little like selling the right to have clean air, or not charging those who pollute our drinking water, or denying us the right to know what they put in our food, or flooding the oceans with Koch Companies ferilizer, which of course no one would think were good … ideas … Okay, wait. Those weren’t good examples.
If the sale brings $40 billion, that’s about 1% of the last Trump annual budget. We all know how fast federal budget dollars disappear. I hate to think that AT&T will be able to reach into my pocket forever because my spectrum was sold to them for money I’ll never see.
Because I’m a capitalist, and believe in competition, I think the federal government should have licensed my spectrum, instead of selling it, preserving my capital investment. Maybe a ten year license if it’s exclusive to one company, or even better, let any company pay to use my spectrum but set standards so they don’t interfere with each other. Sort of like how Mobile Virtual Network Operators (like US Cellular) pay AT&T now to set up a network.
Cell phone service has gone from a luxury to a neccessity, and with 5G it may become our primary means of communication, of receiving information. Like electricity or public water or sewer, and like phone lines used to be, cell phones are now a “utility,” and should be regulated as such and not subject to monopolistic manipulation or collusion between a few large players.
My spectrum should be regarded as a “pipe,” just like the pipes that bring water to our homes. Companies that manage the pipe should not have a special advantage, should not decide what water goes where, nor be able to charge whatever they want because they have the only pipe to my door. Those were my pipes, dammit, at least before they were sold.
But despite my objections, the auction that started today will go forward. Why? Because I forgot to pay off my favorite Republican senator this year, and my Republican Rep. Greg Walden is retiring from the House of Representatives to get a job with AT&T. Or maybe he’ll form a lobbying firm with Ajit Pai.
It’s far too late, so don’t bother to call. I have no voice, anyway, and neither do you.