Carriers Looking to Block Free Wireless Broadband?

Update: TR Daily reports that the vote will be delayed because of “misunderstanding” which loosely translates into lobbyists did their job and got FCC to back up. FCC has taken the vote off the website. I will report more tomorrow as I get the details. (Original story below the fold.)

Original Story: FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s political ambitions might spur him into delivering “free wireless broadband,” if some Beltway insiders are to be believed. His plan, however, is not sitting well with carriers, satellite operators and even some public interest groups.

What Martin wants to do is basically have another auction of advanced wireless services (AWS-3) in the 2155-2175 MHz-band and reserve a portion of the wireless network that uses these frequencies for free wireless broadband. The plan was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The FCC is likely to vote on Martin’s idea of delivering 768 kbps wireless broadband access for free next week. I’ve been told the date is June 12th.

Ironically, Martin was not too thrilled about a similar plan proposed by M2Z Networks, a company started by former FCC official John Muleta and @Home founder Milo Medin in 2006. M2Z wanted to build a free wireless network using the same frequencies except it didn’t want to pay for the spectrum. The FCC ignored their request, so M2Z turned around and sued. They have to be feeling a tad vindicated by Martin’s latest move for free broadband.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to get my hands on a letter from T-Mobile USA bemoaning Martin’s plans and asking the FCC to hold off on making any decision until August. (Below the fold.)

Why? Because they want to “test” it for interference and other issues. “Testing,” however, is just a euphemism for “Let’s delay this sucker for as long as possible.” T-Mobile was the big bidder in the 2006 AWS auctions, and that spectrum is part of its 3G strategy. Other opponents of the idea include Qualcomm and MetroPCS, according to TR Daily.

Among the complaints parties have raised with the item, which would establish service rules for the AWS-3 band and the 10-megahertz H block, which is part of AWS-2, is the potential for interference from AWS-3 and the H block to adjacent AWS-1 and PCS (personal communications service) licensees, as well as mobile satellite service (MSS) operations…One complaint of rural and regional carriers is that the order would break up the 10-MHz AWS-2 J block by moving 5 MHz to the 2155-2175 MHz AWS-3 block, leaving an unpaired 5 MHz, and auction the new 25-MHz AWS-3 block on a nationwide basis. Some of those entities say the FCC should preserve the J block and auction it and the AWS-3 spectrum via smaller cellular market areas (CMAs) [From TR Daily, Subscription Required].

Muleta isn’t too thrilled about this, viewing it as yet another move by the carriers to keep competition at bay. Funny thing is, now he’s on the same side as Martin. M2Z filed a complaint today about this as well.

It’s ironic that Martin’s plan is running into static, for in my opinion, he and others in Washington, D.C., are the ones responsible for this lack of broadband competition that forces Americans to chose between either cable or phone companies. For the longest time abysmal technologies like broadband over power lines were touted by FCC officials as a competitive option.

Martin in particular has gone easy on the phone companies, helping along legislation that has reduced competition for the big operators. At the same time, he has been harsh on cable operators – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Overall, under his watch, the FCC has never seemed to be on the side of the folks for whom it’s responsible: U.S. citizens.

Lately, Martin has changed his tune, mostly because he’s eyeing a political career when his term with the FCC comes to an end. As a result, he has taken a more populist stance, playing nice with some of the public interest groups and overall garnering good press. But remember, he was a lobbyist for phone companies back in the day, and what is it they say about a zebra not changing its stripes? This includes getting behind the idea of free wireless broadband using advanced wireless services.

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