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12/30/2008
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FCC Could Drop Filtering For Free Internet Plan

In hopes of getting free wireless broadband passed before he's replaced, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the winner of the AWS-3 spectrum wouldn't have to filter adult content.

The Federal Communications Commission's goal of universal Internet access may have new life as Chairman Kevin Martin said he has revised his proposal for free wireless broadband.

Martin has endorsed auctioning off the Advanced Wireless Services-3 band with the winner having to dedicate 25% of the spectrum to provide free Internet access. Much to the chagrin of civil liberties groups, Martin's plan required the winner to provide a filter for pornographic or other inappropriate material.

The chairman has retooled the plan, though, and said he's dropping the filtering requirement.

"A lot of public-interest advocates have said they would support this, but we're concerned about the filter," Martin told Ars Technica. "Well, now there's an item in front of the commissioners and it no longer has the filter. And I've already voted for it without the filter now. So, it's already got one vote."

The free wireless broadband plan was originally scheduled to be voted on earlier this month, but Martin canceled the vote after facing pressure from politicians and telecoms. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., urged Martin to drop the free Internet proposal in order for the FCC to focus on the upcoming switchover to digital television signals.

The telecoms and ISPs have never been a fan of this proposal, and T-Mobile in particular has expressed concern that the free Internet would interfere with its service on the nearby AWS-1 spectrum. The CTIA has also said the business model for free Internet is doomed to fail, pointing to the collapse of municipal Wi-Fi ventures.

Startup M2Z Networks is a major proponent of the free Internet plan, and it said the wireless telecoms are just afraid of competition. The company said the business model would differ from defunct ad-based free services like NetZero by partnering with search companies to utilize location-based information for targeted, relevant ads. Additionally, since the FCC would require a minimum connection speed of only 768 Kbps, the AWS-3 spectrum winner could also offer a premium service at a faster connection.

Martin, who will likely be replaced by the incoming Obama administration, may get another crack at the free Internet plan at the next Open Commission meeting Jan. 15. That meeting's agenda has not been set yet, but Martin said the January meeting typically just reports on the status of the industry.

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