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Google launches US wireless crusade

Third time's the charm?

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Google is flirting with yet another effort to offer unfettered internet access over American airwaves, and as usual, it's facing endless back-and-forth with the FCC.

Last Thursday, the world's largest search engine sent a note to the good ol' Federal Communications Commission, expressing its interest in a wireless internet proposal from a new outfit called M2Z Networks. A day later, the FCC rejected the proposal, but Google seems to have high hopes for the "2.1GHz" wireless band targeted by M2Z, as it continues to fight for net access outside the grip of big-name telcos like Verizon and AT&T.

Hoping to offer "fast, free and family-friendly broadband to 95 per cent of the US population within ten years," M2Z Networks is intent on leasing the unused slice of US wireless spectrum between 2155 to 2175MHz. With an FCC application filed in May of 2006, the company suggested that the commission hand over a license to the band in exchange for a cut of the revenues from its planned broadband service.

How can the company generate revenue from a free service? In the usual way. M2Z plans to offer "premium subscription services" as well.

The FCC was slow to answer, and M2Z soon filed a petition insisting that the commision provide a response wihin a year of its original filing. The FCC still waited 15 months, and on Friday, both filings were rejected, along with very similar filings from a copycat firm called NetfreeUS. "We find that the public interest is best served by first seeking public comment on how the band should be used and licensed," the FCC said. "We therefore dismiss all pending applications and related pleadings, without prejudice."

According to its electronic filing, Google was, shall we say, less than enthusiastic with the proposals from M2Z and NetfreeUS. "Google has not participated publicly in any aspect of these proceedings to date, and does not here take a substantive position on the relative merits of M2Z's proposals," the filing said. But the Mountain View, Calif. outfit likes the idea of using the 2.1GHz band to serve up open internet access to American consumers.

If the FCC were to reject M2Z's proposal, Google argued, the commission should explore "the desirability of service rules that foster new entrant competition through 'open platforms' and other license conditions similar to those sought by Google and others in the recent 700 MHz proceeding".

Google spent the summer fighting for unfettered net access over the 700-MHz band, a prized portion of the US spectrum recently vacated by TV stations making the switch to digital transmission.

Clearly, the company wants to give Americans more options when it comes to broadband. It's also latched on to a Microsoft-led effort to provide net access via US "white spaces", portions of television spectrum that go unused by local TV channels.

The 700-MHz band comes up for auction in January, and although Google says it may bid on the band, the FCC failed to match all its demands for open access. The 2.1GHz band may provide new hope for a broadband market served by many ISPs - rather than just a greedy few. ®

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