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3/10/2010
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FCC Plan May Seek Free Broadband

Given that Congress shot down an earlier proposal for free spectrum, what will it do with a new proposal?

The Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan, scheduled to be publically presented to Congress next week, may have something for everyone, but a new intriguing bauble is the suggestion by the FCC that Congress will be asked to "consider use of spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless broadband service."

The comment touched off a wave of speculation. Where will the spectrum come from? Who would be eligible for free broadband? Given that Congress shot down an earlier proposal for free spectrum, what will Congress do with the new proposal?

The answers will have to wait until next week. The FCC did not spell out details, so the proposal may simply seek to set aside some spectrum for use by poor or disadvantaged people at low rates or even for free.

The proposal recalls an earlier attempt by the last Administration's FCC chairman, Kevin Martin, who had endorsed the auction of a nationwide license in the 2,155-MHz to 2,180-MHz band that called for the winning bidder to set aside 25% of the band for free Internet access.

Carriers and ISPs, however, frown on the idea of free Internet access, and T-Mobile leads the charge. The carrier said it fears the proposed service would interfere with its AWS spectrum for which it paid more than $4 billion. T-Mobile maintained that more testing of the band is needed while M2Z Networks maintained the spectrum wouldn't cause any interference.

At the time, Martin's proposal was opposed by Democratic lawmakers Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Rep. Henry Waxman and Martin withdrew the proposal.

Since then, the spectrum crunch has tightened and a new Democratic-led FCC might get a more favorable hearing from a Democratic Congress.

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