FCC Clears Free Wireless Broadband
Free speech issues weren’t enough to knock down FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s push-through of a free national wireless Internet initiative, but few were talking about those free speech issues anyway. T-Mobile’s and Deutsche Telekom AG’s arguments about signal interference—which is the cry-wolf line of the wireless industry these days–weren’t either; after successful testing in Seattle, free wireless Internet is on the way.
Well, Martin needed some decent legacy to point to during his tenure as the nation’s chief communicator guy, right? Who gets credit for free national Internet will be a trivia question for academic teams, Trivial Pursuit, and high school multiple choice exams for generations to come, like which FCC guy smoothed out radio and TV, which was of course. . .yeah, I don’t know either. Bet ya he didn’t have quite the bumbling go at it Martin did though.
Anyway, back to this free Internet business. Martin’s proposal will presumably get the green light now that it’s been shown that use of specific spectrum won’t interfere with T-Mobile’s or Deutsche’s 3G networks. Nobody was using the airwaves surrounding those networks, T-Mobile and Deutsche just preferred the cushion—oh, and that nobody was getting free Internet.
If all goes well, the government will auction off the spectrum to a buyer willing to offer an ad-supported, free network—filtered for content, which we’ll get to in a minute. M2Z made a similar proposal to Martin a couple of years ago, only to be rejected after pressing the FCC to finally make a decision on it. M2Z was looking for a hand-out of spectrum in exchange for revenue-sharing from ad sales and higher-speed premium services.
Besides the “give us some spectrum, sugar” flaw in M2Z’s proposal, Martin couldn’t quite put his face on it in the waning months of his appointment and have his legacy if he signed off. Alright, so that last part’s pure conjecture, but a continued political career for Martin is not. Won’t it be nice he’ll be able to point to free Internet for everybody when he runs for office?
Free spectrum and potential interference aside as possible deal breakers—after all, those are just pure technicalities—Martin and proponents (or, if it helps in the characterization, those who smell money and lots of it) barely flinched at the requirement that the free Internet be filtered for content. They also didn’t put much stock in fundamental differences in one-way and two-way communication systems (TV is one-way, Internet is two-way). As is all too often the norm, the protect-the-children, dare-you-to-oppose approach wins over the basic fact that the government, or someone leasing airwaves from the government, will be deciding what Internet content is appropriate for you to see.
Accidental Super Bowl Pop Star nipples?
Or maybe specific bloggers are declared obscene, just based on the filthy words they use. Martin foresees no problem with this.
What will be really interesting is how, after Martin slides this through, he and the FCC respond to Google and other major Internet players’ advocacy for use of white spaces—those bits of static cushion between TV signals that come available next year. Google was looking to provide a little free Internet of its own with those, probably uncensored, which will suddenly run in direct conflict with the government’s desires.