MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host.
And I'm Melissa Block.
Today, the FCC approved new rules that could give you more choice when it comes to wireless communication - the kind of cell phones you can buy, the kinds of software you can use on them, and which Internet sites you can visit on your phone. The FCC set rules for a spectrum auction that's going to happen in a few months. A big new chunk of the airwaves is going to be available in a few years.
NPR's Laura Sydell joins us now to help explain. And Laura, I gather, there were two main issues with these FCC rules, and the first one has to do with how consumers connect to the wireless companies, like Verizon and T-Mobile, right?
LAURA SYDELL: That's right. You have noticed - most of us have noticed that when you go and sign up with Verizon, you have to buy a phone from Verizon or one that they have approved. And then if you decide to switch to AT&T, you basically have to get a new phone. Well, the rules that they made today say that anyone who buys this wireless spectrum has to allow people to connect any device. So you might be able to keep your phone when you move from one wireless company to another. They also said - you probably have also noticed that you can't just download any software you want. Well, with these new rules, they will have to allow you to download any software. So that would mean you might want to choose a particular site that has ringtones you like or games you like, and you'd be able to do that.
BLOCK: Now, another issue that the FCC ruled on today would've made it easier for upstart wireless companies to compete with the big ones like AT&T and Verizon, the big cable and telecom companies. And there will be no change there based on what the FCC did today. Why not?
SYDELL: That's right. A lot of consumer groups really wanted that anybody who purchased the spectrum was going to have to wholesale out parts of it to smaller carriers and other people, and they decided not to do it. And the reason is because there was a lot of protest from Verizon and these other companies, basically saying this would really cheapen the spectrum. It wouldn't make it as valuable. And when the bidding started, the taxpayers wouldn't get as much out of the auction.
BLOCK: Last week on the program, we talked with Chris Saca of Google. His company wanted to bid more than $4 billion for wireless spectrum if the FCC changed the rules. What's Google saying now? Are they still going to bid?
SYDELL: Well, they were happy that consumers - as they said, consumers got some victory here in terms of being able to use whatever device they want with whatever carrier. But they were very disappointed about the other rule - the wholesale wireless spectrum. And right now, they're not saying they won't bid. These rules are pretty complicated. They're saying they want to look at them, evaluate them. And then they're going to make a decision.
BLOCK: Okay. Well, if there are going to be changes because of these rules that the FCC approved today, when will consumers actually feel them?
SYDELL: Consumers would feel them in 2009 at the earliest. But there is a chance - there is some chance that it won't happen at all. The FCC basically said if the bids aren't high enough, they'll throw all the rules out the window.
BLOCK: And that changes everything.
SYDELL: And that would change everything. It'd go back to the way it is, which means you basically can't take your phone from one carrier to another. I might also add one other thing that did come up today that people were happy about was there was some spectrum that was set aside for emergency workers. And people may recall that during Katrina and 9/11, there were some communication problems. And the hope is that by setting aside a little spectrum here that we won't have those problems in the future.
BLOCK: Okay. All of these rolled into these new rules approved today by the FCC. Laura, thanks very much.
SYDELL: You're quite welcome.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Laura Sydell.
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