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FCC boss spices Puritan wireless plan

The threat of unlicensed spectrum

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FCC chairman Kevin Martin has added some kick to his plan for a free nationwide wireless network, flirting with the possibility of dropping at least a portion of the zero-cost spectrum straight into the hands of mobile developers.

As we reported earlier this week, the FCC is set to vote on Martin's plan at its December 18 meeting. The basic idea is to auction off 25-MHz of the little-used AWS (Advanced Wireless Services) band and earmark at least 25 per cent for a free US-wide broadband network.

Under the plan, the winning bidder would be charged with offering free airwaves to at least 95 per cent of the US population.

To provide an additional incentive, the WSJ reports, Martin is now proposing this: If the free network hasn't reached a certain geographical location after five years, its local bandwidth would transformed into WiFi-like unlicensed spectrum. In other words, anyone with the inclination could grab some airwaves.

But Martin doesn't want the new clause sinking the whole plan. Last week, he circulated two versions of the proposal among his fellow commissioners: one with the clause and one without. At the December 18 meeting, the five commissioners will vote on only one version — the version they prefer to vote on.

Either way, the plan will not go over well at T-Mobile. The Deutsche Telekom-owned carrier sits in an adjacent portion of the AWS band, and it insists that Martin's free waves will wreak havoc on its existing network.

Then there's the no-smut issue. Martin is also proposing that the auction's winning bidder equip his free network with "family-friendly" content filters — though there would be an adult opt-out.

The FCC has already opened the television white spaces to unlicensed devices, defying both God and Dolly Parton. ®

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