Wednesday, December 3, 2008

FCC Free National Wireless Plan Set for Dec. 18 Discussion

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin is pushing for action at its December 18 meeting on a plan to offer free, pornography-free wireless Internet service to all Americans, the Wall Street Journal reports. The plan would require the winner of to set aside a quarter of the airwaves for a free Internet service. 

The frequencies are the Advanced Wireless Service-3 block, which the FCC originally hoped would attract bidders to create a nationwide public safety network. The FCC reportedly wants the winner of the AWS-3 auction to devote 25 percent of the bandwidth to free wireless nationwide broadband with a downstream speed of 768 Kbps.

Predictably, carriers and service providers aren't happy about the idea, as readily-available free service would crimp demand for "for-fee" alternatives. But some policy advocates object to the "pornography free" provisions. 

Separately, a coalition of groups is calling for spending on a national broadband program as part of a possible infrastructure investment program Congress has been talking about. Precise details so far are vague, but the 57 member group, "A Call to Action for a National Broadband Strategy," includes Google, AT&T, Verizon, trade associations, labor unions and others.

The stated objective is to provide every American with affordable access to a high-speed broadband connection. Presumably that also means enacting policies to stimulate private investment and consumer adoption of broadband.

Tax incentives, grants and subsidies from the FCC's Universal Service Fund and different approaches to spectrum allocation are examples of possible policies the group suggests are worthy of consideration. 

One might note a growing body of evidence suggesting that demand, not supply, is the issue, for most potential consumers. Notable issues remain in rural areas, of course. 

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