New FCC likely will take up free broadband wireless plan

It looks like a new FCC will be taking up the issue of a free wireless broadband plan in the AWS-3 band after FCC Chairman Kevin Martin canceled the FCC's Dec. 18 meeting where the vote was expected to happen.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Va., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., who will chair the committees overseeing the FCC in the next Congress, sent a letter asking Martin to hold off on the vote. The two asked Martin and the FCC to instead focus more on the complex issues associated with the digital TV transition that will take place Feb. 19.

The free wireless Internet proposal, heavily favored by Martin, would create a nationwide license in the 2155-2180 MHz band and require the winning bidder to open up 25 percent of its network for free broadband access with a filter to keep pornography off of it. M2Z Networks has lobbied for these rules for two years, while T-Mobile USA was working hard at the FCC to change the proposed rules to mitigate potential harmful interference between the AWS-3 band and the some $4 billion worth of spectrum it owns in the AWS-1 band.

"It would be counter-productive for the FCC to consider unrelated items, especially complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing," Rockefeller and Waxman said in the letter.

The FCC decided to cancel the meeting as it faces continual pressure to hold off on voting on the issue. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez last week expressed the White House's displeasure with the plan. The Bush administration opposes the strings the FCC is attaching to the spectrum, mainly the requirement that the winning bidder must offer part of the network for free.

"We received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman today and spoke with other offices," said FCC spokesman Robert Kenny on Friday. "In light of the letter, it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled."

M2Z said the vote constitutes a violation of statutory deadlines and a violation of the Communications Act. The company cited an October letter from Rep. Hilda Solis, D.-Calif., and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, to Martin that says action on AWS-3 technically should have been taken by Sept. 6 because of deadline provisions in the Communications Act. 

For more:
- check out the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)
- see this post on the Rockefeller-Waxman letter
- see the Solis letter here

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