Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Free Broadband?

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

The FCC will be voting on 18 December on whether to allow for free broadband across the USA.

All TV goes digital in February of 2009. The FCC auctioned off part of the analog bandwidth a while back, but kept AWS-3. 25% of that now-idle chunk is proposed to be used to provide free broadband across the US at speeds up to 768kbps. Whoever buys the spectrum could use the other 75% as it sees fit, probably for paid (faster) broadband. Near the end of the proposal is this:

Additional obligations associated with the licensee’s free broadband service would include a requirement to provide a network-based filtering mechanism for the free Internet service in order to protect children and families, and a requirement that the network allow for the use of open devices.
The open devices part is great, but "network based protect children and families" is somewhat amorphous.

The upside to free broadband will most be felt by rural America, currently underserved by broadband: relegated to dial-up, which is a limitation in these days of streaming video and large downloads. It has never been financially viable for providers to wire for cable or fiber-optic in areas of low population density. So this is good for them, as it gives them something hard to get currently at any cost.

But the price is potentially a violation of that "free speech" part of the First Amendment. The intention is likely to protect children from pornography, but the rule does not specifically spell out the boundaries of "protect".