In a move that the cell phone industry is decrying, the federal agency that oversees communications reportedly will consider a plan this month to auction public airwaves, with a requirement that the winning bidder put some bandwidth aside for free nationwide Internet.
According to Reuters (News - Alert) reporter Kim Dixon, the Federal Communications Commission will consider the measure at its Dec. 18 meeting.
Though supported in theory, the notion of free Internet faces opposition from the cell phone industry, which says it wouldn’t be a feasible business model, free speech advocates who argue against blocking specific content, such as pornography, and service carriers such as T-Mobile (News - Alert), who say the move could interfere with adjacent spectrum that’s already been purchased.
According to one prominent advocacy group leader, Ben Scott (News - Alert) of Free Press, though free broadband and Internet access is a popular concept, “in practice, the way the model is set up, it may present problems.”
The comments come on the heels of a gathering last week – as reported by TMCnet – of broadband adoption advocates, at a symposium hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance.
Just two months before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as the United States’ 44th executive chief, people from government agencies, academia and advocacy groups are calling for wide broadband deployment.
According to Kenneth Corbin of InternetNews.com, Larry Irving, the IIA’s co-chairman, said, “There’s no investment America can make that is likely to pay a better dividend than investment in broadband infrastructure.”
As TMCnet has reported, Obama has put a major emphasis on broadband deployment through wireless technologies, and has spoken of Internet access in schools and healthcare facilities.
He’ll also take office as the unemployment rate rises to levels not seen in a quarter-century.
One off-shoot of Obama’s commitment to broadband could be creation of new jobs, as TMCnet discussed in an interview with a telecom expert, attorney Andrew D. Lipman of Bingham McCutchen LLP.
According to Lipman, Obama directly sees infrastructure initiatives as directly and indirectly creating jobs – good, clean, value-added jobs.
“He (Obama) looks at infrastructure much like a century ago: Policymakers looked at railroads as instrumentalities to further commerce, driving down prices and increasing efficiency,” Lipman said. “In particular, he believes that broadband infrastructure will have a multiplier effect on the economy. Namely, that every dollar spent will create multiples of that investment in related jobs and investment. So, in Obama’s mind, the two factors are inter-related.”
The FCC (News - Alert) is comprised of five members, including three from the “ruling” party. Current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, is expected to step down next month, when Obama is sworn in.
Before he goes, though, according to Dixon, Martin is likely going to propose something similar to what’s being offered by one startup, M2Z (News - Alert) Networks. The group is backed by investors including venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Dixon reports that M2Z President John Muleta sees consumers buying a router for free Internet access at midlevel DSL speed and paying a fee to upgrade to faster service. In Muleta’s mind, Dixon said, a lack of competition and rising prices for Internet services are creating consumer demand for cheaper service.
“It is a difficult time in the general marketplace, but this is not the financial services sector,” Muleta reportedly told the Reuters reporter. “This is not about subprime loans.”
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael�s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan