WASHINGTON, DC: The Federal Communications Commission has approved the launch of a free nationwide wireless internet service, after deciding that its inception would not disrupt the offerings of existing online service providers. 

Final rules for the scheme are to be set out later this year, with the FCC likely to auction the airwave space to bidders before the middle of 2009. 

The prerequisites are likely to include a stipulation that the network reaches half of the US population in its first four years, rising to 95% within ten years.

T-Mobile USA owns the spectrum band next to that to be used by the free service, and has argued that the new network could interfere with its own, paid-for subscription offering.

However, FCC engineers report that trials undertaken in Seattle demonstrated that a free wireless broadband offering could be introduced "without a significant risk of harmful interference". 
Concerns have also been raised that the new scheme favors M2Z Networks, which first proposed launching a free service in 2006, arguing it could finance the arrangement through advertising and charging consumers for faster bandwidths.

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