M2Z Reborn: Censored, but Free, Broadband is Now Kevin Martin’s Top Priority

by on December 1, 2008 · 11 comments

Back in June, Adam Thierer and I denounced (PDF) Kevin Martin’s plans to create broadband utility to provide censored (and very slow) broadband for free to all Americans.  The WSJ reports that this scheme is now at the top of Martin’s December agenda:

The proposal to allow a no-smut, free wireless Internet service is part of a proposal to auction off a chunk of airwaves. The winning bidder would be required to set aside a quarter of the airwaves for a free Internet service. The winner could establish a paid service that would have a fast wireless Internet connection. The free service could be slower and would be required to filter out pornography and other material not suitable for children. The FCC’s proposal mirrors a plan offered by M2Z Networks Inc., a start-up backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr.

Adam’s August follow-up piece is also well worth reading.  

One could speculate as to how big an impact this service would really have.  Having just spent two weeks “wardriving” around Paris, Abu Dhabi and Dubai (looking for open wi-fi hotspots to try to get Internet access on my otherwise non-functional smart phone), I could certainly imagine scenarios in which some people might well use even a slow wireless service at least as a supplement to another provider–if their devices supported it.  But however useful the service might be to some people, and whether any company would actually want to build such a system in the first place if they have to give away such service, I think it’s a safe bet that if this is actually implemented, it will represent a victory for government censorship over content some people don’t like.

If this idea is still alive and kicking when the Obama administration has security escort Martin out of FCC headquarters in January–to hearty applause from nearly all quarters in Washington, no doubt–it will be interesting to see which impulse prevails on the Left, both within the new Administration and in the policy community.  Will the defenders of free expression triumph over those who see ensuring free broadband as a social justice issue?  Or will those on the Left who usually joining us in opposing censorship simply remain silent as the government extends the architecture of censoring the “public airways” onto the Net (where the underlying rationale of traditional broadcast regulation–that parents are powerless–does not apply)?  

Hope springs eternal.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    I find it funny that my use of the term “social justice” triggered this AdSense ad:
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  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    It still just kills me that Martin is going to so much trouble for such a pathetic plan. We are talking about essentially a glorified dial-up service here! I think the title of Tom Evslin's piece over at Circle ID today really says it all: “Free, Slow, Censored Internet: A Bad Idea.” Here's a clip from his piece that nails the stupidity of this:

    The requirement is that the free service have a download speed of at least 768kilobits/second; this is the speed of the slowest DSL. This is not a mobile service where we might accept a slightly slow speed in return for mobility; it is meant to be primary residential access to bridge the digital divide. But, by the time this service actually exists, the web will not be usable at such a slow speed. Websites get designed for the capabilities of the top 50% of users; that's why dialup is now useless for surfing even though it used to work fine.

    By contrast, the Vermont legislature specified that a service won't count as broadband at the end of 2010 unless it is at least 1.5Megabits/second AND realizing that this requirement must escalate, charged the Public Service Board with appropriate and timely upper revision. Nevertheless, this requirement stays the same in the NPRM for the full ten years of the license. 768Kbs will be as obsolete as your old 300 baud modem ten years from now; but it will be the only free service the licensee is required to offer.

    The licensee has no incentive to offer better free service because it will also sell a higher-powered service. The NPRM does NOT specify that a quarter of the network capacity be used for the free service; it says “up to” an “as needed”. If no one uses the free service, then no network capacity need be devoted to it.

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    If this idea is still alive and kicking when the Obama administration has security escort Martin out of FCC headquarters in January–to hearty applause from nearly all quarters in Washington, no doubt–it will be interesting to see which impulse prevails on the Left

  • http://www.gospelhall.org Christian Parent

    Perhaps the idea would be more popular with higher bandwidth. Does the removal of porn filters also make it more appealing?

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