FCC chairman revises wireless broadband plan

Kevin Martin has dropped Web filtering for porn from his proposal that would create a free wireless broadband service.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin has backed off his plan that would require free wireless broadband license holders to filter for smut.

On Monday, the chairman told the blog Ars Technica that he has revised his proposal for free wireless broadband so that it doesn't require license holders to filter for porn. Martin said in an interview with the Web site that he has already started circulating the new version of the plan.

The FCC has been considering auctioning off 25 megahertz of wireless spectrum in the 2155MHz to 2180MHz band for several months. As part of the auction, Martin proposed requiring license holders to offer a portion of their service for free. Also, the free service would be required to filter for pornography and material deemed unsuitable for children.

The idea behind the proposal was to provide wireless broadband Internet access to millions of Americans who may not have been able to afford it.

But several consumer and civil liberty groups opposed the Web filtering requirement, believing that the filter could potentially allow the government to block any content it finds objectionable.

Martin told Ars Technica that he didn't want the Web filtering provision to kill the whole proposal. So he took it out.

"I'm saying if this is a problem for people, let's take it away," Martin told Ars Technica. "A lot of public interest advocates have said they would support this, but we're concerned about the filter. Well, now there's an item in front of the Commissioners and it no longer has the filter. And I've already voted for it without the filter now. So it's already got one vote."

Several consumer groups including, Public Knowledge, Consumers Union, and the Media Access Project, have said they support the idea of offering free wireless access without Web filtering in an effort to provide more broadband options for consumers. They also like the open-access provisions of the proposal, which would require license holders to allow any device to connect to the network.

But others, including the wireless industry, oppose the idea of opening up this spectrum. T-Mobile USA, which spent $4.2 billion in 2006 to acquire spectrum in an adjacent band, has complained that using this spectrum would cause interference with its newly acquired spectrum. The FCC says it has disproved these claims. But it's very clear that T-Mobile, which just started offering 3G wireless service using its new spectrum, also doesn't want to compete with a service that is free.

Martin wanted the FCC to vote on the free wireless proposal on December 18. But the meeting was canceled after several objections over the vote from Congress. The Commission met for an open meeting via teleconference on Tuesday, where it bid farewell to Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate. But no items were voted on.

The revised free wireless broadband proposal could be voted on during the Commission's open meeting on January 15, but there's been no word yet on specific agenda items. Needless to say, with the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20, the next FCC open meeting will likely be Martin's last to opportunity to push through any items, such as the new proposal.