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FCC opens up wireless Net

Companies that offer video programming over wireless networks can now jump into the fast Net access business, the agency says.

Companies that offer video programming over wireless networks can now jump into the fast Net access business, the Federal Communications Commission said today.

Under the new rules, two new industries will be able to compete in the high-bandwidth data market: Multipoint Distribution Services (MDS), which include cable-like offerings via satellite; and Instructional Television Fixed Services (ITFS), which are used to offer distance-learning courses over television.

Although the FCC has strictly regulated how the allotted video spectrum could be used, today's decision is aimed at opening up new markets for the "wireless cable" sector. Nascent industry players in MDS, for example, face serious competition with established cable programmers. Now that traditional operators also are offering high-speed Internet access--@Home is backed by giants TCI, Comcast, and Cox--the agency is now allowing wireless providers to enter that space as well.

"We're trying to give these two services more flexibility so they can repackage the bandwidth they have and lease it to a third party," said Rosemary Kimball, a spokeswoman for the FCC.

"They can offer much more sophisticated services like videoconferencing and Net access," she added.

The decision lets the two categories of wireless operators--or satellite TV companies--lease spectrum for digital services. The rules relax content restrictions for educational facilities that run cable networks, while allowing them to generate revenue through new services.

The agency hopes its latest move will help spur the rollout of services that meet the increasing demands for bandwidth among Internet users and companies.

"Both individual and business consumers will be able to use the high-speed and high-capacity data transmission and Internet service that will be available through the new systems," the agency stated in a release today. "Consumers will be able to take advantage of new videoconferencing, distance learning, and continuing education offerings."

In July, the FCC said it was considering a deregulation plan to allow large phone companies to more easily enter the growing market if they set up high-speed data service subsidiaries that would act as separate business entities.

Earlier this month, the agency released a staff working paper that discussed whether budding cable Net access services should be reclassified as cable services. Such a change could mean that services such as @Home and Time Warner's Road Runner would not have to unbundle their networks and share them with competitors. But the strategy also could mean some new fees for consumers.