FCC now seems open to free Wi-Fi plan

In a variation of a plan it previously shot down, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed that the winner of a newly planned spectrum auction be required to offer free wireless Internet service.

The FCC's proposal essentially sounds similar to a suggestion made last year by M2Z Networks, the first company to suggest free wireless Internet nationwide. The free wireless network would be required to cover half of the country's citizens within four years, and 95 percent within a decade. FCC officials told the Wall Street Journal that content restrictions would be placed on use.

Last year, M2Z Networks asked the FCC to award it vacant spectrum to build a network that would cover 95 percent of Americans within a decade. The agency ended up rejecting the company's proposal, even though public comments were for the most part in favor of the idea. It appears much of the pushback had to do with requirements that the FCC must auction off spectrum rather than just give it away.

The key difference in today's FCC proposal is that the spectrum has to be purchased, with the understanding that the purchaser must provide the free network.

The spectrum that would be auctioned under this new proposal should not be confused with the "D" block auction: that deals with spectrum in the 1870 and 1950 MHz ranges. The frequencies here are in the range of 2155 to 2170 MHz.

It is not clear if the industry will go for the agency's plan, when asked what the CTIA -- a a organization of wireless companies -- thought of it, spokesperson Joseph Farren told BetaNews this afternoon that the CTIA supports "flexible auction rules that allow any and all entities to participate."

The FCC will vote on the matter on June 12, and M2Z is apparently in support of the idea, even without the prospect of wireless spectrum being awarded to it. The company's Web site issued a statement this morning urging public support, saying, "It will be important that your voice calling for America to have free and family friendly nationwide broadband continues to be heard in Washington."

The United States lags behind over a dozen other developed nations in terms of a percentage of the population that subscribes to high-speed Internet, including Korea, Australia, Canada and much of Europe.

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