Monday, July 16, 2007

Free the iPhone!

A new movement is underway to "Free the iPhone". The organization, Free Press, has launched a campaign to make the iPhone free - that's free as in "free speech", not free as in "free beer". Their aim is to have the FCC mandate that any company using the 700MHz wireless spectrum be required to keep it an open network. Is this unreasonable?

To clarify, right now if you want an iPhone the only way to get one is by switching to AT&T for your cellular phone service. Even once you do that, AT&T and Apple restrict what you can do and what sites you're able to visit on the web. As a result, customers become the big losers - not only do they receive limited service and censored internet access, but the exclusivity deal between AT&T and Apple means that they also have no market alternative.

In response, Free Press is calling for the FCC and our elected officials to take action and give people 1) the freedom to use whatever whatever device they want on any network, 2) the freedom to choose among many providers in a competitive wholesale marketplace, and 3) the freedom to access any content or services they want through their devices.

Not only does this seem reasonable, but it's also socially desirable. Nobody is saying Apple or AT&T needs to give their services or products away at no cost. This is indeed a capitalist market, and the companies have every right to pursue their profits as they see fit. However, what is central to this issue is the fact that, according to U.S. law, the public owns the airwaves. The FCC and the federal government, acting as the agents of "the public", have been regulating the wireless spectrum for decades in order to serve "the public interest, convenience, or necessity". It is therefore extremely justified for the FCC to require firms using the publicly owned network to keep it open to all comers in exchange for using that public network towards their own private monetary goals. In fact, not only is it justified, but considering the enormous public benefits of keeping the network open, the FCC would actually be doing its job and serving "the public interest" to maintain something so beneficial to consumers, markets, and freedom.

Again, let Apple and AT&T make their profits. But if they want to use something the public owns, then they must agree to standards set by the public's elected officials. Free the iPhone, free the market.

The petition and details about the campaign can be found here.


At 8:18 AM, Blogger Fitz said...

And the drumbeat continues. In today’s NY Sun none other than former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth takes up Apple's cause. In response to last weeks news that the ATT / iPhone can be hacked Mr. Furchtgott-Roth says its wrong because Apple will lose money as a result. Just another sign of big business making the rules and maintaining the rules that favor themselves and not the consumer.


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