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Wireless Future Project

About This Project

The Wireless Future Project, which is part of New America's Open Technology Institute, develops and advocates policy proposals to promote universal, affordable and ubiquitous broadband and improve the public’s access to critical wireless communication technologies. It seeks to promote fair and efficient use of the airwaves to unlock the full potential of the wireless age for all Americans. In each economic era wealth creation has been driven by specific resources. In the agricultural era it was land; in the industrial era, it was energy. Today the American people collectively own the most valuable resource of the emerging information economy: the public airwaves, also known as the electromagnetic spectrum. As the world goes wireless, access to the airwaves is the “oil of the information age;” indeed, economists estimate the commercial value of existing licenses at over $750 billion. Unfortunately, our nation’s antiquated spectrum policies have created artificial spectrum scarcity that reduces innovation and competition, inhibits the rapid deployment of universal affordable wireless broadband services, and sacrifices many billions of dollars in public revenue.

Open Spectrum

A more efficient and equitable spectrum policy would have an enormously positive impact on our nation's economy, media and democracy. Among the Wireless Future Project’s central goals are to reverse this ongoing privatization of the public airwaves and to expand citizen access to an unlicensed spectrum “commons,” thereby facilitating public access to the airwaves, nonprofit community and municipal wireless networks and ubiquitous wireless Internet access. The project seeks to not only maintain democratic control over the airwaves -- as a public resource -- but also ultimately make wireless communication over the radio frequency spectrum as free as communications over the acoustic spectrum (speech) and the visible light spectrum (sight and color). While spectrum licensing persists, we advocate that commercial users pay fees for exclusive licenses, with the revenue earmarked to finance unfulfilled public interest obligations.

Open Networks

The Internet’s success and importance to society is predicated on its open architecture. This openness was maintained as the Internet evolved from a network of academics to its current widespread use, allowing consumers to access any legal content, service, or application, developers to innovate without permission, and users to transmit any information desired without interference from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). However in recent years, a number of ISPs have begun to interfere with certain content and applications and increasingly argue for the ability to further shape or manage traffic on their networks. Meanwhile, in the wireless realm consumers do not enjoy the same freedom, allowing mobile carriers to restrict the types of phones and other devices consumers can use on their network, what device features they can access, and what software applications and content they can download. The Wireless Future Project works to enact policies that promote open networks and architectures, empower individual users, and limit the ability of service providers to control decisions best left to consumers.

Open Technology Institute

The Open Technology Institute (OTI) formulates policy and regulatory reforms to support open architectures and open source innovations and facilitates the development and implementation of open technologies and communications networks. OTI promotes affordable, universal, and ubiquitous communications networks through partnerships with communities, researchers, industry, and public interest groups. OTI is committed to maximizing the potentials of innovative open technologies by studying their social and economic impacts –- particularly for poor, rural, and other underserved constituencies.

Community and Municipal Broadband

Since 2001, the U.S. has fallen from 3rd to 16th or lower in worldwide broadband adoption and access, an alarming trend that seriously threatens American competitiveness in the digital age. The Wireless Future Project believes that wireless broadband is the most promising way to extend affordable, ubiquitous, high-speed Internet connections to all Americans, particularly in underserved rural and low-income areas. Community and Municipal Broadband networks are an integral part of extending affordable, high-speed connectivity to underserved or unserved populations. New America seeks to promote these networks through increasing public access to vital spectrum, promoting open networking technology and infrastructures and developing best-practices to help build successful and sustainable networks.

Digital Future of Public Service Media

For several years, the Wireless Future Project has advocated that significant portions of the tens of billions of dollars in federal revenue expected from spectrum auctions should be earmarked for reinvestment in a range of civic, educational and public media priorities. These unmet needs include free media time for political candidates, expanded civic discourse, quality children’s and educational programming, and advanced educational content and software. It also includes the unfunded costs of preserving, modernizing and expanding America’s public broadcasting system for the on-demand digital media era.

Policy Impact

Since its inception in 2001, the Wireless Future Project has influenced and reframed the national debate over spectrum policy in vital ways. The DTV transition enacted by Congress was modeled on New America’s proposal, as is the pending FCC rulemaking that proposes to reallocate unused TV channels in every market for wireless broadband on an open, unlicensed basis. The Wireless Future Project has produced scores of major regulatory filings at the FCC, more than 120 reports, working papers, and issue briefs, has published numerous articles in the mainstream press, and has organized over 100 high-profile public events.