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U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin wants wireless Internet access to be included in efforts to ensure universal communications for all U.S. residents.
The U.S. government taxes wireline carriers to subsidize phone services for rural areas that are more expensive to reach by wire. This Universal Service Fund (USF) has come under attack for being an outdated burden in an age of cellular and other forms of broadband.
Speaking at the CTIA Wireless trade show in Orlando, Martin called for universal service to be provided in a technology-neutral way. Access should be assured using the most efficient technology, which in rural areas is often wireless, he said.
Changing universal-service policies would be one move to encourage an industry that Martin praised in a conversation on stage with CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent.
"The wireless industry is the most competitive of all the sectors that we regulate," Martin said. Ninety-eight percent of U.S. residents live in areas where there are three or more mobile providers to choose from, he said.
Also on Tuesday, Martin hailed the FCC's decision last week to classify wireless broadband Internet access as an information service. The ruling, announced Friday, put wireless broadband in the same category as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable modem and broadband-over-powerline services. It did not include satellite services.
The move will help make wireless competitive with other broadband technologies, he said.
"We've got to make sure that we're putting in place a framework that will treat all these platforms in the same way," Martin said.
The agency's next big move will be its auction late this year to reallocate analog TV frequencies for wireless data services, he said. That spectrum will be better than current cellular frequencies at penetrating walls, and it will let mobile operators offer mobile data services more efficiently, Martin said.
Also during Tuesday's keynote session, AT&T Inc. Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson crowed about moves by the carrier's Cingular wireless arm to meet evolving customer demand. On Monday, the mobile operator offered wireless broadband subscribers free access to more than three million songs through a partnership with Napster LLC, he said. And showing off the coveted Apple Inc. iPhone, he said more than a million customers have asked Cingular to contact them when it becomes available. The sleek device is set to ship in June, and AT&T has a U.S. exclusive on it.
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