Calling Back to 1913

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here.

In 1913 the Bell System entered into an historic anti-trust settlement known as the Kingsbury Commitment. It would be good to consider imposing this same commitment today.

The Kingsbury commitment mandated that the Bell System had to interconnect its monopoly lines with all other telephone companies.

If we re-enacted the Kingsbury commitment today, monopoly cell phone tower operators would be required to make their towers available to any and all telephone operators. You could open up a cell phone company and begin selling phone service as a mom & pop operator. Your iPhones could talk on T-Mobile or AT&T or Verizon’s towers freely. You would bill your customers and pay a fair price for tower usage.

The towers would be treated as a regulated monopoly and a fair price would be established that would offer a fair, but modest return on the tower operator’s investment. For example, a tower operator might be paid $1 per gigabyte of traffic that they handled.

Lastly, the spectrum franchise monopolies would be rescinded and would be re-nationalized. Each tower would be independently licensed (or be allowed to be built “prescriptively” if there wasn’t any other covering tower nearby. If we had to refund a few billion dollars to the cell phone monopolies to re-nationalize the frequencies then so be it…those dollars are trivially small.

What we would end up with is exactly what this nation needs: Competition to build towers and to fill in every possible coverage gap. And, it would give consumers the best possible service by allowing (mandating) that their phones could use any and all towers that they were technically capable of communicating with.

A modern iPhone is technically capable of talking to pretty much any tower. Every frequency, every protocol, and every standard used in the United States is supported by one single iPhone model: the A1533. This means that an iPhone sold today would talk on a Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile tower–whichever was nearer and best.

Imagine where everybody would have cell coverage. Imagine where you could use any tower. And, imagine tower operators competing to cover you. Why, that would be what America is all about: capitalistic competitive, and consumerist.

It is time to overhaul our regulatory framework in the cell phone industry.