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Open access coalition rattles Virgin

A coalition of industry players calling for open access to spectrum in the 700MHz band in the US has raised a few hackles at Virgin Mobile USA this week.

The Wireless Founders Coalition for Innovation (WFC) purports to have been co-founded by “the founders of Virgin Mobile USA”. Except Virgin doesn’t think so.

A Virgin Mobile USA spokeswoman pointed out “there is in fact no founder of Virgin Mobile USA connected with…the Wireless Founders Coalition. In fact, VMU takes the opposite point of view…”

Maybe it depends on the definition of ‘founder’. The dictionary has it as “a person who founds or establishes”. Amol Sarva and John Tantum, which co-founded the WFC, claim to have been the first and third employees of Virgin Mobile USA respectively.

Tantum was former president of the MVNO, while Sarva lists himself only as ‘founder’.

But dictionaries aside, perhaps Virgin Mobile USA is more distressed at being associated with a federation calling for open access to wireless spectrum, even in passing. Open access to a single swathe of spectrum in the upcoming 700MHz auction in the US would allow companies seeking to launch new services to bypass the existing major carriers.

The coalition believes that adopting wholesale, open access use would benefit competition in the wireless and broadband markets, providing consumers with more choices and first responders with better alternatives for wireless broadband.

This sets a terrifying threat to the incumbent carriers which are lobbying hard to ensure they at least get to participate in the auction. That way, their deep pockets can keep many of the potential upstarts out of the game.

As an MVNO, Virgin Mobile USA may not be one of these incumbents. But it is 47 per cent owned by network partner Sprint, which also has three seats on its board, so it’s not hard to see where loyalties lie.

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