FCC looks to fast-track free wireless broadband network initiative

The FCC is looking for feedback on options to auction a nationwide wireless broadband license that would require the licensee to offer free broadband services. The FCC hopes to secure rules for the licensee by August.

The commission is proposing to combine the 2155 to 2175 MHz band with the 2175 MHz to 2180 MHz band to create a 25-megahertz swathe of spectrum that would support a nationwide license. The spectrum is referred to as advanced wireless services-3.

"This larger block size may allow the AWS-3 licensee to make more robust use of the spectrum while operating at a stricter out-of-band emission limit," the FCC stated. "Alternatively, another proposed option would be to retain the 2155-2175 MHz AWS-3 block and allow the licensee to operate with a more traditional out-of-band emission limit."

The plan, however, is already riddled in controversy, with major operators raising concern about interference to their operations in adjacent frequencies and accusing regulators of creating an auction tailored to a specific business model. The plan is similar to what M2Z Networks proposed back in 2006. The company asked the FCC for 25 megahertz of vacant spectrum in the 2155 MHz to 2175 MHz band to offer free wireless broadband service. The FCC subsequently dismissed M2Z's request. More recently, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced new legislation, known as the Wireless International Nationwide for Families Act, that would direct the FCC to auction unused spectrum, the 2155 MHz to 2180MHz band, and require the winner to offer a free wireless broadband network that reaches 95 percent of the U.S. population within 10 years.

Under FCC proposals, the licensee of this band would be required to use up to 25 percent of its network capacity for free, two-way broadband service at data rates of at least 768 kbps downstream. A network-based filtering mechanism would also be required for the free Internet service to protect children and families from obscene content. The winning bidder of the AWS-3 band would also have to offer coverage and service to at least 50 percent of the U.S. population within four years and at least 95 percent of the population by the end of 10 years.

T-Mobile, which won a huge amount of spectrum in the AWS band, buying 120 licenses for about $4.2 billion, raised concerns about interference from the band. Tom Sugrue, vice president of government affairs with T-Mobile said the "commission appears to be denying itself the opportunity to engage in the appropriate joint testing required to examine empirically the significant interference issues raised in this proceeding. T-Mobile looks forward to detailing these concerns in its comments and to sharing with the commission its own interference test results."

For more:
- read RCR Wireless News

Related stories:
FCC mulls another spectrum auction. Read this spectrum auction story.
Will a spectrum auction requiring free broadband services work?  Read this spectrum auction editorial
Congresswoman proposes free wireless broadband. Read this free broadband story