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Free Wireless Broadband Still Available?

Two congressmen have found a technicality in the morass of FCC rules and regulations that pertain to the auctioning of the AWS-3 spectrum, which resides in the 2,155- to 2,180-MHz band.

As it turns out, the attempt to auction off some unused spectrum for free nationwide access isn't entirely dead.

U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., are urging FCC commissioners to move quickly and auction off the AWS-3 spectrum.

Originally scheduled to be voted on Dec. 11, the measure was dropped when its most ardent supporter, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, canceled the vote under pressure by the White House and Democrats Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Rush and Towns have found a technicality in the morass of FCC rules and regulations that pertain to the auctioning of the AWS-3 spectrum, which resides in the 2,155- to 2,180-MHz band.

"In order for the AWS-3 item to be resolved in a timely manner, it must be adopted on circulation," the congressmen wrote in their letter. "We request that you resolve this matter on circulation in the near term by immediately adopting rules for a free nationwide wireless broadband network that will provide all Americans with high-speed data services."

Rush and Towns, both members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, addressed the letter to FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

The argument behind their plea is that the FCC has been ordered to auction off free spectrum by the end of the year and the AWS-3 vote is in "on circulation" category, meaning that it can still be voted upon. However, with the cancellation of the vote earlier this week and the fierce opposition behind the scenes of the vote by entrenched broadband suppliers, the measure isn't given much chance of success.

T-Mobile, which is rolling out a nationwide network upgrade to its $4 billion-plus AWS spectrum purchase, is alarmed that the AWS-3 band could interfere with its network.

The AWS-3 spectrum is not as robust as other bands, but it could be a solution to providing broadband access to rural and disadvantaged citizens, who can't get or afford access now. M2Z Networks, which has some deep-pocketed venture capitalists behind it, has said it is standing by ready to bid on the spectrum if it is auctioned.

Another swathe of spectrum -- the so-called "white spaces" that resides alongside the 700-MHz spectrum -- could offer free broadband access, too, but the future use of the white-spaces spectrum is uncertain.

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