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Congressmen Urging FCC Democrats To Vote For Free Broadband Service

A pair of Democratic congressmen have asked the two FCC Democrats to vote with chairman Kevin Martin on service rules for an upcoming advanced wireless services spectrum auction (AWS-3) that would create a free, national broadband service.

In a letter to Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, Reps. Bobby Rush (IL) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY) this week asked them to "immmediately" adopt rules for the free nationwide service, saying it will provide high-speed data services to underserved communities. They also point out that the company proposing the free service is minority-run (both Rush and Towns are African Americans), and argue that “failure to promptly act on this matter would once again, be evidence of the steep barriers that minority-owned firms face in entering the telecommunications marketplace.”

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin pushed for the proposal as a way to help bridge the digital divide by providing ubiquitous access, a point the legislators also say argue for its approval.

But Martin also proposed making a content filter part of the proposal, to screen out content innapropriate for children under the age of 18.

That has caused some pushback from groups otherwise supportive of the proposal.

The proposal also drew opposition from the Bush administration for another reason.

It argues that the free broadband conditions on the auction could lead to "congested and inefficiently used broadband."

  Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell has also expressed reservations about the effects of caveats and conditions on the success of spectrum auctions.

While Martin had scheduled the item for the FCC's Dec. 18 public meeting, that meeting was scrapped entirely after the future chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committees cautioned the chairman to confine his remaining time atop the commission to DTV issues and items with statutory deadlines.

But Rush and Towns point out that there is a statutory deadline on wrapping up the AWS-3 item that already passed last September, so voting on it would not run afoul of the advice to Martin from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), the incoming chairs of Energy & Commerce and Commerce, respectively.

Towns and Rush called on Copps and Adelstein to join Martin in voting the item on circulation--outside of its public meetings--and to do so ASAP.