FCC Chairman Kevin Martin still hopes to gain agency approval of his controversial proposal to impose a free wireless broadband mandate on the FCC's next spectrum auction. After objections from advocacy groups, Martin drops the idea of requiring the auction winner to filter out pornography and other objectionable material. Congress and the Bush administration still have objections.
Outgoing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin hopes to
force a vote on his controversial proposal to impose a free wireless broadband
mandate on the FCC's next spectrum auction by dropping a requirement that the
network filter out pornography and other objectionable material.
Under Martin's plan, the winning bidder of 25MHz in the 2,155 to 2,180MHz
advanced wireless services band would be required to provide a free wireless
broadband tier to 50 percent of the United
States in four years and 95 percent of the
country within 10 years. The proposed free broadband network would support
itself by advertising and offering faster speeds on pay tiers.
Martin's original proposal also included a mandate that the winning bidder
make the network family-friendly by filtering out objectionable material, but
Martin told Ars
Dec. 29 that he is now willing to drop the idea after a
number of advocacy groups that otherwise support the proposal objected on free
"I'm saying if this is a problem for people, let's take it away,"
Martin told Ars Technica.
"A lot of public interest advocates have said they would support this, but
we're concerned about the filter. Well, now there's an item in front of the
Commissioners and it no longer has the filter. And I've already voted for it
without the filter now. So it's already got one vote."
That, though, may not be enough to rally support for the proposal while
Martin, a Republican appointed by President Bush, still holds office.
Martin, who is expected to resign after President-elect Barack Obama takes
office, cancelled a scheduled Dec. 18 FCC vote on the proposal after Sen. John
D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce and
Science Committee, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who will be heading the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, co-signed
a letter to Martin
stating it would be "counterproductive" to
vote on "complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new
administration will have an interest in reviewing."
A day after receiving the letter, Martin's
office quietly tabled the vote.
"We received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman
today and spoke with other offices," Robert Kenny, an FCC spokesperson,
said in a Dec. 12 statement. "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."
In a Dec.
10 letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin,
(PDF) Secretary of Commerce Carlos
Gutierrez urged Martin to reconsider the proposal in light of the Bush
administration's position that spectrum should be allocated by markets rather
"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," Gutierrez wrote. "In
contrast, open and highly competitive auction processes have supported both
greatly expanded broadband services and the taxpayers' interests in spectrum
Martin first proposed the free Internet idea in May but ran into stiff
opposition from incumbent wireless carriers worried about interference with
their own networks. In particular, T-Mobile, which paid $4 billion to win the
airwaves adjacent to the spectrum that will be up for auction, fiercely opposes
But an FCC
engineering report released Oct. 11 concluded that two-way broadband service in
the spectrum would not cause harmful interference
to wireless services of
"The analysis shows that ... [a] device operating in close proximity does
not necessarily result in interference," the FCC report
(PDF) stated. "And when factoring
in actual operation under nonstatic conditions, the situation only
Martin's plan closely mirrors a 2005 proposal by Silicon Valley
startup M2Z Networks. The catch, though, was M2Z didn't want to bid on the
spectrum. Instead, M2Z proposed that the FCC lease the spectrum to the company
in return for 5 percent of the gross receipts. M2Z now says it is now willing
to bid on the spectrum. The company is backed by Silicon Valley
powerhouse venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
AT&T and Verizon have also opposed the auction plan, as have CTIA, the
carriers' principal trade association, and several Republican members of
Congress. In addition to interference concerns, the carriers have raised
questions about M2Z's ability to raise the capital needed to build a nationwide
Other members of Congress, though, have shown an interest in the M2Z proposal,
with Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah) introducing
legislation that would require the FCC to auction fallow spectrum (such as the
2155 to 2180MHz band) to provide free, filtered broadband for 95 percent of the
country within 10 years.
"The results of the 700MHz
disappointed many of us who hoped that a new entrant would
emerge," Eshoo said in an April 16 statement.
"Seventy percent of the spectrum auctioned went to only two carriers.
While the auction required under this legislation is open to anyone, it is my
hope that the bold conditions of requiring free, family-friendly service will
encourage the entry of a new kind of national broadband service provider."
John Muleta, CEO
and founder of M2Z Networks, said Oct. 10 after the FCC report on interference
was issued, "All of the policy and technical benchmarks have now been met
and all that is needed is an affirmative vote by the FCC commissioners so that
this spectrum can be auctioned and be put into productive use as quickly as