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FCC Ignoring Free Wireless Broadband Proposal?

Free wireless broadband across the land! Free! Who wouldn't want that? Who wouldn't think that's good public policy?

According to M2Z Networks, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn't. More accurately, the FCC doesn't know what it thinks about M2Z.

Backed by such Silicon Valley powerhouse venture capitalists as Kleiner, Perkins; Charles River Ventures; and Redpoint Ventures, M2Z proposes to build a nationwide wireless broadband network offering free high-speed service to virtually all Americans within 10 years.

Under the M2Z proposal, its advertising-supported basic tier of wireless broadband service would provide speeds six times faster than dial-up and offer filtering at the network level to make it family friendly and accessible to children. The company is willing to commit to a build-out that would cover 95 percent of the U.S. population within 10 years.

In addition, M2Z would provide access to public agencies in national emergencies.

"We are proposing to build a national network that uses wireless as the last-mile connection," M2Z CEO John Muleta, the former head of the FCC Wireless Bureau, told Internetnews.com.

The twist in the plan is that M2Z wants the FCC to front the spectrum necessary to build the network. Unfortunately for M2Z, the FCC has a decade-long policy in place that requires spectrum to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

In return for the spectrum, M2Z would pay the government a 5 percent royalty for premium services available on the network, such as faster-speed tiers.

The M2Z proposal has been pending at the FCC for more than 15 months, although the FCC was statutorily required to make a "public interest" determination on M2Z's license application by May 5.

Frustrated by the FCC foot dragging, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based M2Z earlier this week threatened to take the agency to court if it doesn't make a decision by Sept. 1.

"M2Z has been very patient on behalf of the millions of Americans who would benefit from our proposed service," Milo Medin, M2Z's chairman, said in a statement. "It took the FCC nine months to seek comment on our application, which is as long as it took the commission to decide the largest telecommunications merger in history, the BellSouth/AT&T merger."

The spectrum that M2Z wants is not part of the FCC's 700 MHz auction planned for January. Located in the 2155-2175 MHz band, Muleta called the spectrum that M2Z covets "fallow," although AT&T, Verizon and other large telecoms currently use the space for microwave backhaul purposes.

"That is not the highest and best use of that spectrum," Muleta said. "Since 2000, the FCC has told [the telecoms] to be prepared to leave [the spectrum]."

Muleta noted that the space consists of unpaired spectrum, which is ideal for IP-based services but not cell phone service. An auction, he contends, would not draw much interest.

Not surprisingly, the telecoms oppose M2Z's plan.

"While the provision of basic broadband services and secondary data connectivity for public safety are laudable goals," AT&T said in an FCC filing, "the FCC has no basis upon which to grant the extraordinary relief requested -- an auction exemption."

Uzoma Onyeije, vice president of regulatory affairs for M2Z Networks, which aspires to be a wireless broadband provider, said in a statement all M2Z wants is a decision out of the FCC.

"We strongly believe that the FCC should fully and fairly review the detailed record associated with M2Z’s license application."

The FCC had no comment.