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FCC kills Puritanical wireless vote

After whinging from Pres, lawmakers

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The US Federal Communications Commission has canceled the December meeting where it was scheduled to vote on chairman Kevin Martin's plan for free US-wide puritanical wireless broadband. But the commission says the proposal will "remain in circulation for the commissioners to vote" in the future.

The meeting would have dealt with several other issues as well, but the powwow was canceled following complaints from lawmakers and the Bush administration over the free wireless plan.

Under the plan, the FCC would auction off the spectrum between 2155- and 2180-MHz on the US dial (part of the Advanced Wireless Services, or AWS, band), and the winning bidder would have no choice but to plant a free network on a portion of that 25-MHz. The commission would also require "family-friendly" filters designed to rid the free bandwidth of porn and other smut.

The proposal has received ongoing opposition from wireless carriers, ISPs, and handset manufacturers as well as consumer advocates. The incumbent wireless industry doesn't like being told what to do with the airwaves. And the consumer advocates don't like the no-smut bit.

Then, on Wednesday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez sent Martin a letter saying that the president and his lame-duck administration was against the plan. "I understand that the draft AWS-3 order would constrain a provider's use of this spectrum, favoring a particular business model and potentially precluding the spectrum from allocation to the most valuable use," Gutierrez said (PDF).

"In particular, one mandate would require that the licensee provide free broadband services at government-mandated speeds. This mandate would likely lead to congested and inefficiently used broadband, and it would be inconsistent with the Administration's view that spectrum should be allocated by markets rather than governments."

Then, on Friday, Senator John Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.) and Congressman Henry Waxman - who chair the Senate and House committees that oversee the FCC - sent a letter to Martin and the FCC asking the commissioners to focus their attention on the transition to digital television scheduled for early next year.

The FCC did not respond to phone calls requesting comment. But a spokesman told The Wall Street Journal, that in light of the letter from Rockafeller and Waxman, "it does not appear that there is consensus to move forward and the agenda meeting has been canceled." ®

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