Outgoing FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is pushing for action on December 18th with a plan to auction spectrum for free wireless Internet service to all Americans, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The FCC plans to auction off the 2155-2175 MHz spectrum band (called AWS-3), to enable services similar to a plan offered by M2Z Networks, a start-up backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr.
T-Mobile is objecting to that move, on interference grounds. It paid $4 billion to lease the adjacent AWS-1 spectrum for 3G use. Some consumer groups object to the FCC’s proposal on censorship grounds. To address concerns about the filter, the FCC is proposing that adults could opt out and access all Internet sites.
The free Internet plan is the most controversial issue the agency will tackle in December says the WSJ. Martin shelved plans to consider other controversial issues, including a request by the Hollywood studios to hobble TVs and set-top boxes so studios can offer copy-protected theatrical releases sooner.
At its December meeting, the FCC could also consider new rules designed to speed up consideration of disputes between independent cable programmers and cable providers such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast, which either refuse to carry some channels or put them on specialty tiers of service that cost subscribers more.
The agency also will ask for more feedback on its proposal to require programmers to sell their channels to cable operators individually instead of in bundles.
The FCC had issued a rule making on the topic back in June with a proposal that would create two tiers of wireless Internet service. The lowest tier would provide free wireless broadband for the 100 million Americans who don’t have access to broadband right now, and a carrier would sell access to the faster tier for all comers. The rule making was similar to a proposal created by M2Z Networks.
M2Z put forward a plan to use the 25 Mhz chunk (2155-2180 Mhz) using TDD Mobile WiMAX. It proposed free service (funded by advertising), as well as pay tiers.
In May, 2006, M2Z asked the FCC to give it a national 25 megahertz block of airwaves. The start-up said in lieu of payment, it would pay the Treasury 5% off the top. The idea of handing out airwaves potentially worth billions didn’t go over very well at the agency. But in May, 2008, Martin proposed auctioning off the airwaves to a company willing to set aside some of its airwaves for free use. The network would have to reach 50% of the U.S. population in four years and 95% within a decade.
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