House Representatives weigh in support on nationwide Wi-Fi plans

The quest to see a national free Wi-Fi network continues, this week winning the ringing endorsements (PDF) of House Representatives Anna Eshoo and Edward Markey.

National Wi-Fi, or the concept of a nationwide wireless internet service available for free, seeks to spread wireless broadband access to all the places not covered by traditional broadband internet service. Both plans – there are two, one from Silicon Valley-based M2Z Networks and the other from the FCC – emphasize providing high-speed internet to rural and underprivileged communities, which are usually out of reach for traditional, landline high-speed internet service.

M2Z Networks made an initial proposal for 384kbps service in July 2006, but found its ideas scrapped last fall after the FCC criticized its speed and questioned the company’s benchmarks. Rather than take the FCC to court, M2Z lobbied Rep. Eshoo to draw up the Wireless Internet Nationwide for Families Act, which instead would force the FCC to auction off available space in the 2155-2175 MHz band to create a nationwide Wi-Fi network.

Around the same time it rejected M2Z’s initial proposal, the FCC drew up nearly identical plans (PDF) to sell the same chunk of spectrum to the highest bidder.

Both current initiatives face stiff resistance from incumbent wireless telcos such as AT&T and Verizon, who recently raised concerns over potential signal interference.

Recent tests conducted in the UK suggest that there won’t be any problems, write Eshoo and Markey, who say that “unnecessary interference testing would needlessly delay this auction.”

Such doubts “[constitute] the very rationale to kill this effort totally,” reads the letter. “The British Office of Communications … concluded that [service] can operate … without causing substantial interference.”

Opponents’ objections point specifically to the way the spectrum would be duplexed, claiming that techniques such as unpaired Time Division Duplexing or paired Frequency Division Duplexing would be unable to operate due to signal interference.

Notably, both proposals stipulate that any free wireless offerings have mandatory content filters, preventing users from viewing any material that “would be harmful to teens and adolescents,” including pornography and anything “contemporary community standards” deem as obscene. Free-speech advocates call this condition unconstitutional.

M2Z Networks is backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, Charles River Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
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