FCC Touts Free Nationwide Wi-Fi

The Federal Communications Commission has been batting around the idea of authorizing a nationwide wireless broadband network, complete with content filtering designed to keep pornography and other adult materials off the public airwaves…and off of kids’ computers, PSPs, Nintendo DSs, phones, iPods, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices. However, some wireless providers have been skeptical of the idea, arguing that allowing operations in the AWS-3 band (from 2155 to 2180 MHz) would interfere with existing operators’ system in the AWS-1 band (from 2110 to 2155 MHz). Chief among the protesters was T-Mobile, although other major wireless players echoed the notion.

Now the FCC reports (PDF) that it conducted a series of tests at a facility in Seattle, Washington, and found that the proposes AWS-3 services would not cause undue interference to licensed users of the AWS-1 spectrum. The results contradict a set of interference tests conducted earlier by T-Mobile that found services on the AWS-3 spectrum would cause widespread interference in existing AWS-1 services.

The FCC’s finding is good news for M2Z Networks, which is one of the biggest backers of the FCC’s proposed free wireless proposal, and considered one of the most likely firms to bid for operating the service if it gets approval.

T-Mobile’s response to the FCC’s tests has been cool, saying only that it will evaluate the FCC’s test results and hopes the FCC will provide enough time for comment and feedback on the report before taking any action.

Determining that possible AWS-3 services don’t interfere with existing licensed spectrum use is only part of the battle: the FCC’s insistence that any wireless services on the AWS-3 band be filtered for pornography and other adult materials raises First Amendment issues that may need to be resolved in court. Civil liberties groups have already argued that the FCC’s proposed filtering requirements on the network would not survive court scrutiny. The FCC is apparently willing to consider proposals for mechanisms that would let confirmed adults bypass the mandatory filtering.

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