The FCC is seeking comments on its plan to auction AWS-3 spectrum with a mandate that the winner provide free broadband wireless coverage to 95% of the population after 10 years of winning the license. The mandate would require the licensee to set aside at least 25% of their network capacity to provide broadband service of 768K downstream (or better), free of charge. In addition, the licensee would have to filter out content that would be objectionable to children and families. This FCC Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking focuses on AWS spectrum in the 1915-1920 MHz, 1995-2000 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands.
This rulemaking looks to be a breeding ground of lawsuits, should it move forward as presently discussed. There is huge opposition on multiple fronts. Existing AWS spectrum holders, including T-mobile claim considerable interference challenges to this plan. Considering the billions T-mobile is spending on both AWS spectrum and a 3G build out, they certainly plan to be heard on this issue. Additionally, all broadband carriers (wireless or otherwise) are not exactly thrilled at the “free” service mandate associated with this auction. After all, it’s kind of hard to compete with free. A wireless 768K service certainly does not send shivers down the backs of providers of multi-megabit broadband service offerings, but it’s the precedent that is scary. A contrarian view says that such a development might actually be beneficial to broadband carriers. Consumers who choose a 768K service certainly won’t be pleased with it for long. Perhaps it will serve to whet their broadband appetites for something more robust, and lead them to better and fee based broadband services. Whatever the case, expect this issue to get a lot of opposition and a ton of debate before ever seeing the light of day.