updated 03:30 pm EST, Thu December 11, 2008
US Govt Resists AWS 3 Plan
The incumbent White House administration today voiced public opposition to a measure that would require the winner of an FCC auction to offer free AWS Internet access across the US. A letter from Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez claims to represent the Bush administration in opposing the wireless plan and says the FCC should let bidders win without conditions, with "market forces" dictating the nature of any Internet service rather than government concerns for the public interest.
"The administration believes that the AWS-3 spectrum should be auctioned without price or product mandates," Gutierrez writes.
In its current form, the AWS-3 (Advanced Wireless Spectrum 3) proposal would require that the winner of the auction for the wireless space must set aside about 25 percent of their network bandwidth for a minimum 768Kbps free access with a content filter to protect underage users. They would also have to cover about 95 percent of the US population with access within 10 years.
Such a debate points to internal conflict within the administration, which appointed fellow Republican Kevin Martin as FCC Chairman and has generally refrained from weighing in on FCC decisions. Martin has regularly been an advocate of more open Internet access and has required both unrestricted hardware and software on a portion of the 700MHz space auctioned earlier this year and has greenlit the unlicensed use of "white space" wireless, which could lead to a long-range parallel to Wi-Fi.
Critics have accused Martin of favoring the primary backer of free wireless Internet use, M2Z Networks, with the AWS-3 proposal; others, however, have claimed that objections to the free wireless plan have been raised or supported chiefly by large cellular carriers and Internet providers that would instead use the network for all-commercial, device-locked Internet service.
Administration officials will regardless have little say over the final vote on the access plan, which may take place as early as December 18th. Executive branch opposition to the plan is also widely anticipated to fade away when the Obama administration takes office next month, as the President-elect has publicly voiced support for universal high-speed Internet access.