FCC considers free Internet plan

by Jennifer Bosavage, ChannelWeb

The Federal Communications Commission at a Dec. 18 meeting will debate a plan that, if approved, would result in free Internet access.

Free Internet access continues to be a hot topic as the cell phone industry vociferously opposes it, while the Republican leadership of the FCC entertains proposals in favor of it. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is a champion of the plan, which involves auctioning off 25MHz of the little-used Advanced Wireless Services band and offering at least 25 percent for a free nationwide broadband network. Under the plan, the winning bidder would have to offer free airwaves to at least 95 percent of the U.S. population.

There are two proposals facing the FCC commissioners. One includes a provision that if the free network hasn't reached its goals within five years, its local bandwidth would be transformed into Wi-Fi-like unlicensed spectrum. The other does not. The FCC will vote on one of those versions—which the commissioners will determine themselves—at the upcoming meeting.

The cell phone providers are against the idea, largely because they have claimed the "free" spectrum interferes with their adjacent spectrum. FCC engineers have disputed that claim.

Free speech advocates are also opposed to the plan because the auction winner would be required to prohibit pornography or other objectionable materials. In addition, critics note that the free model is very difficult to run profitably, particularly without the lucrative porn marketplace. However, Martin's latest proposal offers adults the option to opt out of any filtering.

One of the companies that could benefit from a ruling in favor of free Internet is M2Z Networks. The company filed an application in May 2006 to provide a competitive broadband service deployed on unutilized spectrum. Among M2Z's proposals is a build-out that would provide coverage for 95 percent of the American population within 10 years. The vendor has agreed to filter indecent content and offer services to public safety organizations. The company is aiming to make money on upgrades in service; M2Z plans to pay 5 percent of its gross revenue earned from M2Z's premium and wholesale subscription services to the U.S. Treasury.

article originally published at http://www.crn.com/networking/212201887.

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