With U.S. broadband penetration still lagging far behind other advanced economies—and rural and low-income areas in particular being left on the wrong side of the digital divide—a variety of emerging wireless technologies offer the potential to quickly and cost-effectively bring affordable and ubiquitous broadband access to all Americans. While these wireless solutions offer great promise, they all suffer from a lack of adequate access to the public airwaves (spectrum)—either on an exclusive licensed or shared, unlicensed basis.
Recently, two start-ups have proposed innovative but controversial new nationwide wireless broadband networks, premised not on spectrum auctions, but on valuable grants of spectrum in return for extensive public interest service obligations. M2Z Networks, co-founded by former FCC Wireless Bureau Chief John Muleta, has requested 20 MHz of currently unassigned, fallow spectrum to provide a two-tier “family friendly” broadband service (including a basic free offering and a faster, premium service) reaching 95% of the U.S. population. Cyren Call, headed by Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien, has proposed reallocating 30 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, currently set to be auctioned in 2008, for a Public Safety Broadband Trust. This trust would partner with private companies to build a seamless nationwide broadband network optimized for public safety use, but with excess capacity used for commercial services.
At this event, Muleta and O’Brien compared and contrasted their respective proposals. Other panelists discussed the other contending models for providing wireless broadband services:
- Ben Scott of Free Press focused on municipal and nonprofit community broadband networks.
- Marty Dougherty discussed the important role of commercial Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) utilizing primarily unlicensed spectrum -- and the need for access to more and better unlicensed spectrum in the form of vacant TV channels ("white spaces").
- Chris Guttman-McCabe of CTIA discussed emerging 3G cellular and fixed wireless (WiMax) services operating on licensed spectrum (much of which was acquired by carriers at auction).
Panelists also debated the role of Universal Service reform in furthering wireless broadband deployment.
Video of this event is available at right. There are direct links to video clips of each participant's remarks below, and an MP3 audio recording of the full event can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
385 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC, 20510
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