FCC Considers Mandating Free Wireless Access

The FCC is gearing up to auction off exclusive use to a spectrum of airwaves (2155 – 2175MHz, a.k.a. the AWS-3 band), and it is considering requiring the purchaser to provide high-speed (768Kbps) Internet access to most of the U.S. for free: 

''We're hoping there will be increased interest (in the proposal) and because this will provide wireless broadband services to more Americans it is certainly something we want to see,'' said FCC spokesman Rob Kenny.

Kenny said he didn't know when the auction would be held and details must still be worked out. However, he said the resulting network must reach 50 percent of the population four years after the winner gets a license and then 95 percent after 10 years, he said.

In fact, two years ago, M2Z Networks propositioned the FCC to give it access to the spectrum for this very purpose. Ultimately, the FCC rejected the proposal because such an opportunity must be open for bidding by competing carriers. However, many wireless carriers feel that tacking on such requirements to the spectrum "would shrink the pool of bidders."

So far the FCC doesn't have a great track record with tacking public interest onto wireless spectrum auctions. Part of the 700MHz spectrum auction from earlier this year, failed to find a bidder who could meet the $1.3 billion reserve price for the D Block portion of the spectrum, which requires the purchaser to "build a nationwide emergency communications network for public safety agencies."

For the technically minded, here is a brief snippet about the 2155 – 2175MHz spectrum from the FCC

"The 2155-2175 MHz band is currently occupied by over 1,800 active, incumbent Fixed  Service (FS) and Broadband Radio Service (BRS) licenses, which are subject to relocation by AWS entrants. This spectrum consists of a single, unpaired, 20-megahertz block, rather than two, separate paired blocks. Therefore, a symmetrical pairing approach -- in which one block is used for base station transmissions and another, equally-sized block is used for mobile handset transmissions -- cannot be adopted in the rules for this spectrum."