FCC Clears Path for Free Wireless Broadband

Test results released by the Federal Communications Commission suggest the proposed free wireless broadband in the 2155 to 2175MHz band would not interfere with T-Mobile's adjacent 3G network. The study clears the way for the FCC to set rules for a spectrum auction requiring the winning bidder 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.

It appears the Federal Communications Commission is ready to move forward with a spectrum auction in 2009 that would require the winning bidder 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.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin first proposed the 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 opposed Martin's plan.

"The Commission cannot responsibly reach a decision on the proposal ... without gathering empirical data concerning the interference risks that have been identified," T-Mobile said in a filing with the FCC.

Click here to read more about the FCC free wireless broadband proposal and how wireless carriers reacted.

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 other carriers.

"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 improves."

Under Martin's plan, the airwaves to be auctioned would include 25MHz in the 2,155 to 2,180MHz advanced wireless services band. The proposed network would support itself by advertising and offering faster speeds on pay tiers. The free tier of broadband services would be family friendly, with the FCC requiring the winning bidder to filter out pornography.

"These technical findings support the use of this long-fallow spectrum for broadband and [the report] puts to rest the false technical arguments that were thrown in at the last minute in order to thwart competition," John Muleta, CEO and founder of M2Z Networks, which plans to bid on the spectrum, said in a statement.

M2Z, a Silicon Valley startup with backing from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Charles River Ventures and Redpoint Ventures, offered in 2005 to build a free wireless tier for a nationwide network but did not want to bid on the spectrum. Instead, M2Z proposed the FCC grant the spectrum to the company in exchange for 5 percent of the profits. M2Z now says it is ready to bid for the spectrum.

"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 possible," Muleta said.