Are Kevin Martin's wireless broadband dreams in peril?

In the coming months, the FCC has some decisions to make that will impact the future of wireless broadband--a subject that is near and dear to Chairman Kevin Martin's heart as he'd like to see wireless broadband bridge connectivity for the country's have-nots.

Next month, the commission is expected to take up the growing debate over white-space spectrum, that unused TV spectrum that advocates such as Google and Microsoft want used on an unlicensed basis for super-WiFi services. Martin likes the idea, but the FCC faces heavy lobbying pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters and wireless microphone users such as the NFL that fear interference. Recently completed field tests haven't revealed any clear answers over the interference debate.

The FCC also is looking to auction spectrum in the AWS-3 band that would require the licensee to dedicate 25 percent of its network capacity to free broadband service, install a network-based Internet filtering system to block pornography and allow open access to third-party devices and applications. Again, the commission is facing some stiff opposition to the plan from operators such as T-Mobile that worry about interference with the AWS-1 band and Republicans who think crafting such rules would create another 700 MHz D-block debacle.

And the commission is considering the New Clearwire deal, which involves Sprint pooling its WiMAX assets with Clearwire with the help of millions from Intel, Google and cable operators. That plan is also coming under fire from AT&T, which is accusing the stakeholders of providing inconsistent details on how much usable spectrum the new entity will have and reiterated that it wants the FCC to scrutinize the deal like it would other carrier deals.

The question is, can the FCC effectively tackle these decisions before a new administration and Congress comes onto the scene in 2009? The commission is supposed to rule on the New Clearwire deal before the end of the year, but Martin has said the auction will probably not move forward this year because of the intense controversy over the plan. The white-space controversy seems far from resolved as there doesn't seem to be a clear answer over whether these devices cause interference or not. So it's unlikely the commission will come to a consensus on that before the end of the year.

What does that mean for the wireless broadband dream? Will it be stuck in limbo? Some of the nation's operators that don't want to see new competition, appear to be making sure that they continue to cloud the issues until 2009, when these initiatives will perhaps be taken up by a new FCC. Will Martin's dreams be for naught? --Lynnette

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