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12/11/2008
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White House Opposes FCC Free Wireless Network Plan

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez reveals President Bush's resistance to an auction of 25 megahertz of spectrum in the 2,155- to 2,180-MHz band.

The U.S. Department of Commerce and the White House oppose the Federal Communications Commission's plan to promote free wireless Internet throughout the United States, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reported that Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez sent a letter Wednesday saying that the White House wants the airwaves auctioned without price or product mandate. He said that the FCC spectrum auctions illustrated increased potential for problems when licensing is "overly prescriptive or designed around unproven business models," according to the Journal report.

The FCC could vote on the issue as early as Dec. 18, before Chairman Kevin Martin leaves. Martin proposed an auction of 25 MHz of spectrum in the 2,155-MHz to 2,180-MHz band. He wants the winner to use some of the airwaves to give Internet users free access through an ad-supported system. Martin also wants the winner to filter some content so young people can't access illegal and inappropriate content through the free wireless network.

Martin said the company with the winning bid could offer faster service through subscriptions.

Providers oppose his plan. They say competition should drive growth and help support the cost of building networks. They also said that opening the airwaves could allow interference with networks they have spent millions to acquire. The FCC dismissed those concerns and said the airwaves could be opened without posing significant risks of interference.

The Commerce Department has previously expressed opposition to the plan, but the Gutierrez letter goes beyond that to say that President George W. Bush opposes it as well.

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