Report: FCC Set To Vote On Free Wireless Proposal

According to a Monday report in USA Today, the FCC, at its Dec. 18 meeting, will vote on whether to auction off a portion of unused spectrum called Advanced Wireless Service-3 (AWS-3) to the highest bidder.

But there are plenty of strings attached to the auction, which is expected to be held in early 2009. For example, the FCC will reportedly require the winner of the AWS-3 auction to devote 25 percent of the bandwidth to free wireless nationwide broadband with a downstream speed of 768 Kbps.

Predictably, carriers and service providers aren't happy about this, even though they'll be able to use the remaining 75 percent to sell faster, commercial services. Service providers such as T-Mobile have claimed that the AWS-3 wireless broadband would interfere with their own commercial services that use neighboring spectrums, but the FCC has already dismissed their claims.

Clearly, it's the 'free' part of the equation that's keeping C-level service provider executives awake at night. But another thorny issue is the FCC requirement that the winner will have to keep the free wireless service free of pornography and illegal content, a stipulation that has added complex socio-political issues to the technological issues posited by the carriers.

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"Whether the IT industry or the carrier space will be the greater beneficiary of AWS-3 will be decided by the social, political and market forces that have nothing to do with the engineering technology itself," said Joe Bardwell, president and chief scientist of Connect802, a solution provider in San Ramon, Calif.

All of this means that any U.S. citizen who expects to be able to take advantage of the free wireless broadband service anytime soon is probably also planning to leave milk and cookies out for Santa this Christmas Eve.