OK, public spectrum, take 2. Or is it 3? After the infamous D-block auction meltdown, the FCC is set with a new plan to have the private sector deliver free Internet over the airwaves, Reuters reports.
And FCC chair Kevin Martin's plan includes another long-held fantasy of policymakers: a porn-free network. The cell phone companies want the spectrum but they don't like this business about providing for free what they would otherwise charge for. Folks like Free Press don't like this business about censorship.
"Everybody likes the concept -- free broadband, free access to the Internet -- but in practice, the way the model is set up, it may present problems," said Ben Scott, policy director of advocacy group Free Press.
T-Mobile claims the plan would interfere with its adjacent spectrum, for which it paid $4.2 billion. The FCC says interference is not a problem.
Martin's proposal is a retread of one by M2Z Networks, which was rejected last year because it was pitched as a no-bid deal.
Revisiting the M2Z proposal is like entering a time warp. Let's go back to a world in which free Internet is funded by advertising and the fees consumers pay to move up to faster access. Oh yeah, that's the exact something-for-nothing disaster that blew up in governments' faces when it was called municipal broadband.
Let's remember why we need over-the-air free Internet: mobility and rural. Business people, government workers, students, medical workers, need Internet available always. The mobile device in your pocket needs to be able to be online all the time. And it needs to be freely available, or if not free, then for some modest subscription fee. You pay once and you get access, all over the country, ubiquitous. That would transform innovation and build new opportunities.
And rural needs broadband, badly. Over the air is the best way to do that. But here free makes no sense. I pay Comcast $60 a month for Internet. Rural people will need to pay, as well. What's clear is that you get what you pay for in this marketplace. Well, even if you pay you get crappy service. But if you pay nothing ... well muni broadband proves the point.
So, it sounds like the plan will pass 3-2, with Martin joining the Democrats. But a public-private network that the private sector hates just ain't going to work.