FCC rules would make smartphones, tablets work on multiple networks

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Wednesday to consider rules that would require mobile devices to be operable across different spectrums, freeing up satellite bandwidth for mobile broadband.

Under one proposal, the commission is asking wireless providers and device manufacturers to develop voluntary ways that devices could be used on several different blocks of spectrum. If technically possible, it would allow consumer to choose more devices and use them on different services.

If the industry can't or won't move ahead on its own, the FCC is asking for input on potential plans to require companies to make their devices interoperable.

"Consumers should be able to use expensive smartphones operating on the newest, fastest spectrum bands on any carrier's service, and not have to buy another phone if they change companies," Public Knowledge's Harold Feld said in a statement.

The commission also voted to initiate a process that could allow Dish, and possibly other companies, to use satellite spectrum for a mobile broadband network. Dish's plan is similar to one proposed by LightSquared, but Dish's network is not expected to cause the GPS interference problems that have plagued LightSquared, as they use a different frequency.

After the FCC revoked LightSquared's permissionto use its satellite spectrum for ground use, the agency took a more deliberative approach to Dish's plan. Still, analyst Christopher Kingof Stifel Nicolaus predicted the FCC would eventually change the restrictions in favor of Dish."The question is how the FCC will go about making this change, particularly the requirements it could impose on Dish," King wrote in an analysis on Wednesday. "There may be some interference issues, but they appear nothing like those faced by LightSquared."

In the ongoing effort to find more spectrum to use for broadband, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced a task force to oversee spectrum incentive auctions authorized by Congress last month.

The task force will be composed of many of the top staffers at the commission and has already begun work analyzing the more than 100 pages of legislation outlining the auctions.

"What we'll see is an implementation process that will be inclusive and participatory; that will be guided by the economics and the engineering; and that will seek to maximize the opportunity to unleash investment and innovation, benefit consumers, drive economic growth, and enhance our global competitiveness," Genachowski said at Wednesday's meeting.

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