Saturday, December 13, 2008

Free Wireless Broadband On Hold

The Federal Communications Commission has canceled a December 18th meeting scheduled to vote on a free wireless Internet plan using part of AWS-3 spectrum. That means that free nation wide wireless broadband service is on hold, for now at least.

The FCC has been considering whether it should auction off 25 megahertz of wireless spectrum in the 2155MHz to 2180MHz band (AWS-3 spectrum). In exchange for using the spectrum, the FCC would require license holders to offer some form of free wireless broadband service. This service would be used as a way to provide free Internet access to millions of Americans who either can't afford or don't want to pay for high-speed Internet access.

In addition to requiring that license holders set aside a portion of the spectrum for free wi-fi the FCC was also going to require that the Web service be filtered for pornography and material deemed not suitable for children.

The plan and its stipulations have been met with opposition from several top officials, wireless providers, and even civil rights groups. With the latest opposition coming from U.S. Representative Henry Waxman of California and U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. The two senators will chair the committees overseeing the FCC in the next Congress both wrote letters the week urging FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to hold off on the vote.

"We received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman today and spoke with other offices. In light of the letter, it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled. The items will remain on circulation and the Commissioners can still vote on them," FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said in a statement.

Earlier this week the Bush administration also spoke out in opposition to the proposed auction. According to a report published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez sent a letter to the agency's Republican chairman Wednesday afternoon expressing the administration's displeasure with the idea.

"The administration believes that the (airwaves) should be auctioned without price or product mandate," Gutierrez wrote, according to the Journal's report. "The history of FCC spectrum auctions has shown that the potential for problems increases in instances where licensing is overly prescriptive or designed around unproven business models."

The FCC might have better luck pushing along the auctions when President elect Obama takes control of the White House next year. In his tech agenda Obama outlines support for an open internet as well as a need for wider reaching broadband access. Obama hasn’t said if he agrees with the AWS-3 auction rules, but Obama has previously pledged 100% broadband availability across the country.

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