News.com reports that Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith is proposing legislation that would definitively allow cities and counties to run free wireless networks, funded by a tax on broadband consumers. The bill, called the Broadband for America Act, doesn't address the hot-button issue of net neutrality. Here's what it would do:
- Require the FCC to establish rules requiring that all companies "capable of supporting two-way voice communications" pay into the Universal Service Fund, a multibillion-dollar pool of money that's currently used to subsidize telecommunications services in rural and other high-cost areas, schools and libraries.
- Give the Federal Communications Commission 180 days to establish rules for unlicensed use of so-called "white spaces" on the broadband airwaves--that is, empty, unused channels in the broadcast TV bands. Consumer advocates say using those slices of the radio spectrum would enable cheaper and easier setup of broadband networks, but the broadcasting lobby has voiced fears that such uses would muddle their stations' reception.
- Prevent states from blocking public-sector broadband networks. That provision is taken from the Community Broadband Act introduced last summer by Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. That bill appears to be targeting more than a dozen states that have already passed laws bearing such restrictions or prohibitions.
- Relieve new entrants to the video services market from negotiating franchise agreements with individual cities and towns--a matter that has sparked controversy among cable companies, which have historically had to negotiate such deals, and phone companies seeking relaxed regulations so that they can roll out their own video services more quickly.