Outgoing FCC Chairman Touts Free Wireless Web

02 December 2008

WASHINGTON, DC:  Eager to clear his in-tray and buff his less than shiny image before the Obama administration takes office in January, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J Martin  (pictured), has come up with an eleventh-hour wheeze to ensure the ongoing imprint of his posterior remains on the FCC chair.

He is touting a plan to offer a free, content-screened wireless internet service across the nation – an idea that doesn't delight the wireless industry at large,  nor even some consumer groups.

The latter, unsurprisingly, don't welcome the government's sponsorship of a free service when they cotinue to invest heavily in commercial wireless networks. 

And some gamy consumer advocates object to the FCC's proposed pornography filter. To address concerns about the filter, the FCC is proposing that adults could opt-out enabling them to access all websites.

But given that 'free' is not a word much used in the GOP's lexicon, what's in it for big business?

Martin's maneuvre is part of a proposal to auction a slab of airwaves, freed by the move to digital TV. The winning bidder would be required to retain twenty-five percent of the airwaves for a free wireless web service.

It would be slower and required to filter-out pornography, violence and other material unsuitable for children.

The remaining 75% of the digital spectrum would be devoted to a 'gold standard' service, faster, unfiltered and available only by subscription.

One especially displeased party is Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile USA, which some years ago paid in the region of $4 billion (€3.15bn; £2.61bn) for airwaves adjacent to the proposed free network.

It complains that the freebie will likely result in interference for subscribers to its new 3G wireless network – a claim rejected by the FCC.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff