Federal Communications Commission Chair Kevin Martin's quest for a free, wireless, national broadband service for the people has taken a new turn. On the surface it sounds good, they did say “free” after all. That is free in the monetary sense, not in the free thinking, freedom loving sense. Of course I can hear my economics Professor shrieking “TINSTAAFL” (There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) at me now in her high pitched voice. Oh, the horrors of college. Of course the American people would have to pay for this in one of the many taxes we now enjoy paying, or maybe we get the pleasure of a nice new tax somewhere.
The US ranks last of the G8 nations in broadband penetration. This is due in part to topography, the spread of people into rural areas, the age of our telco infrastructure and the willingness of ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers) to invest in that infrastructure. Even cable companies know that the more customers you load on every mile of cable the quicker you’ll earn back your investment. In many cases it doesn’t justify the investment. That makes Wi-Max wireless an attractive solution for this, and there are companies pursuing it. Not many of which want to compete with a free government service.
Ars technica quotes a passage in the release of a public comment cycle on the plan Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNOPR) advocates "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” that brings to mind a new cost, freedom of speech. It sounds a lot like “porn free” now. Of course judges have already smacked down laws restricting porn (we really love our porn it seems) but it still sounds a bit too “1984”. We all know how well those filters work, and how much legit info gets caught in them.
Who gets to pick and choose what gets filtered and what doesn’t? It says “network based”, which to me mean the filtering doesn’t happen on your computer. So it happens in some big server farm someplace and that means it most likely won’t be you. Okay, so maybe to please the smut loving Judges of America, they make it so you can disable this filtering. It is not so bad, it’s “free” and you can shut off the filtering. They can’t know it’s you looking for the Anarchist’s Cookbook right?
Not quite. You would have to prove your 18 to disable to the filtering. They would have to have to identify all the users somehow because of spammers, black hats, and the dreaded file sharers. How else is the RIAA going to carry on its Holy War against evil doers? They will have it protected and they will have to know who you are to use it. Then maybe in the name of fighting terrorism they build a database of everyone’s surfing habits. It all becomes “1984” very easily.
This just has so many holes it should be like trying to float a colander. Does the 1978 Supreme Court (Pacifica vs. FCC) decision that lets the FCC slap Opie and Anthony for indecency and Janet Jackson for wardrobe malfunctions with fines on terrestrial radio and TV, apply to mobile broadband? Who decides what gets filtered? Is it right for the goverment to compete with business in wireless broadband? Martin’s proposal opens up more issues, problems and concerns than it actually seeks to solve.
Before joining the FCC, Martin was a Special Assistant to President Bush for Economic Policy. The FNOPR makes me wonder if he had a hand in bringing us $4.00 a gallon gasoline too.