A free wireless Internet proposal by the Federal Communications Commission has been put on hold. According to Reuters, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Thursday that he would delay a vote on his proposal to auction a 25-MHz spectrum with the specific condition that the winner provide free Internet access. Martin said he wanted more time to investigate concerns by wireless carriers that there could be interference with frequencies already in use.
Martin has said he didn't believe there was a problem with interference, and that the new auction would provide the same protections against interference as previous auctions.
"I am happy to end up giving people a little more time to consider this," he told Reuters, although he added that he still thinks it's a "critical goal" and he's "still anxious for the commission to do it." He has also told other news media that he is committed to providing a lifeline broadband service.
The proposal had been scheduled to be discussed at the next FCC meeting on June 12. It could still be taken up at the FCC's meeting in July, which would allow the agency to approve auction rules before an August deadline. If the FCC approves no later than August, the auction could take place before the end of the year.
If Martin's proposal is adopted, the auction winner would be required to provide free wireless Internet to half the U.S. population within four years and to 95 percent within 10 years. It would not be the same Internet that is otherwise available, as the FCC proposal also requires that the winner filter out pornographic content. However, Martin has said he would support a plan that would allow adults to use an unfiltered service.
While some groups have protested the availability of an unfiltered Internet, others have protested the filtering as possible censorship.
Although no business model is defined, the idea is that the winner might be able to sell advertising or use some of the bandwidth for commercial services. About a quarter of the spectrum would be used for the free broadband service, and the rest could be available for commercial use.
The D Block
Earlier this year, the FCC completed a much-publicized auction for 700-MHz frequencies, which are being vacated as U.S. television stations migrate to digital transmission.
That auction was generally seen as successful. However, one part of the auction that was not successful was for the D block of frequencies. Its minimum bid of $1.3 billion was not reached.
The FCC had set rules requiring the buyer of the D block to allow part of the spectrum to be used by public-safety agencies. The agency is now taking comments on how the rules for the D block might be revised to attract higher bids. Some critics of the free wireless Internet proposal are comparing it to the D-block auction, and see both as examples of the FCC imposing too many restrictions on use.