by Carlo Longino

Filed Under:
fcc, free, spectrum

fcc, m2z

Startup Still Clamoring For Free Spectrum To Build Out Wireless Broadband

from the now-with-added-free dept

Back in 2006, a startup called M2Z Networks asked the FCC to give it a sizable chunk of valuable spectrum for free, and in exchange, it would set up a nationwide wireless broadband network to offer free (and slow) "family-friendly" service and pay the government 5% of the revenues from a paid premium service also running on the network. We were skeptical of the plan because of its aggressive rollout schedule and the network's slow speed ("512 kbps" -- keep that figure in mind -- for the free tier/3 mbps for the paid tier), but mostly because of the huge expenditure required to build out a wireless network covering 95 percent of the US population -- expenditure which would be very difficult to recover from a free, slow service. The FCC wasn't convinced, either, and rejected M2Z's proposal in 2007, though that wasn't the end of it. A congresswoman introduced a bill tailor-made for M2Z's specs, but it went nowhere. Still, M2Z lives on, and it's now looking for a chunk of stimulus funding to start building its network.

It doesn't look like M2Z has updated its plan at all since 2006, doing nothing to address any of the concerns, beyond replacing the need for private investment with a second government handout, on top of its free spectrum. In particular, they don't seem to have upped their targets for the speed of their network. What the company was proposing wasn't exactly fast in 2006, is pretty pokey now, and will be even less attractive by the time its network would get up and running. In addition, it's worth clarifying that the "512 kbps" M2Z talks about is arrived at by adding the 384kbps downstream speed plus the 128 kbps upstream speed they plan to offer. That's a new trick we haven't seen before, even in the world of "up to" broadband speed advertising.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Nick Coghlan (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:10pm

    Plenty fast enough for critical services

    Is 384 kbps great? No it isn't.

    But for basic services like access to email, instant messaging, job search websites and government services? It should do the trick just fine (and much better than 57.6 kbps dial-up).

    If people want access to the "fun" side of the internet, or more powerful educational and communications tools (which are likely to require sufficient bandwidth to handle reasonably high quality video), then that's an optional service they can pay for.

    There may be plenty of other problems with M2Z's proposal, but the idea of a universal, publicly available basic level of internet access (even at relatively "slow" data rates) can't be counted as a major flaw.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Portland, May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:12pm


    One need simply look at Portland for an example of free, slow, wireless access that failed almost since inception. The problem was the service sucked compared to simply hopping on any of the hundreds of free wifi in coffee shops all over town.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:30pm

    "("512 kbps" -- keep that figure in mind -- for the free tier/3 mbps for the paid tier)"

    If they truly can and will deliver this, which I don't know, I think it's a good idea. Even 512 kbps is great for those who don't have Internet access and will easily enable them to start blogs and comment on blogs and give me a larger perspective of the world and the lives of those who would otherwise not have Internet connection, especially in areas where there is very little Internet. Heck, it beast those dial up modems by a large amount and at one time I used to be stuck with a 14.4 modem many many years ago, back when just about everyone had a dialup modem and a 14.4 connection was considered really fast. 512 Kbps even beats my prehistoric 56K connections that, at the time, I thought were incredibly fast. It's better than nothing. and to Imagine that all the cell phones only use a small faction of the spectrum. a 512 Kbps connection for everyone almost everywhere would easily replace radio, now everyone can stream music online anywhere and start listening to online radio stations that offer only CC licensed music that no one pays the evil RIAA for and listen to online talk radio and whatever online stations they want. Of course the RIAA and radio broadcasters would strongly lobby against something like this, they don't want competition, but who cares. We need to tell our government who's boss, that they work for WE the people, not the corporate lobbyists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:38pm

    Re: Plenty fast enough for critical services

    I completely agree. It's not that fast, but I want everyone to have basic access to basic services no matter where they go free of charge. I'm willing for the government to fund it even if it's necessary (though I'm sure that will end up going nowhere, our government will end up throwing away a bunch of taxpayer money and nothing will get accomplished) despite the fact that I am generally a free market capitalist. Right now you have to be tied to an expensive Internet service provider of some sort to access the Internet and that service may only extend within the limits of your home or work. What if you're in the middle of nowhere and you want to access basic services? You may need to pay extra for those satellite offerings. I would much rather everyone just have at least some access, even if it's 512 (384 download / 128 upload) into nowhere. I lived with a 14.4 for long enough, and I've even thought a 56 K (really 53 K due to phone line limitations) was fast at one time, to have a 384 / 128 everywhere would be great.

    and at least they're not making outrageous promises that they clearly can't keep, like a 100 Mb/s both way connection to everyone for free if the FCC grants this, which would make them lose tons of credibility. I don't even know if they can keep the promises they are making without some sort of tax subsidy, assuming they don't waste those tax dollars, but at least the promises they are making sound somewhat reasonable which somewhat gives them a bit of credibility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:40pm

    Re: Re: Plenty fast enough for critical services

    In other words, at least they're trying to make reasonably sounding promises (whether they're truly reasonable or not is another question) in opposed to obviously ridiculous promises everyone knows they can't keep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 8:44pm

    Re: Portland

    I agree, the money needed to fund this thing (as Mike notes) is going to cost a lot. This is why I am in favor of the government funding this. Basic universal Internet access (not fast broadband access) is one of those basic things, like public roads, that are best left for the government to fund and it won't drive private ISP's out of business either, because private ISP's could still offer faster services that can offer high quality video for those willing to pay. But I think everyone should at least have free basic access to the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    jjmsan (profile), May 3rd, 2010 @ 9:14pm

    Re: Re: Portland

    Free bad service is still bad service. People don't want to use a bad service free or not. Plus all the comments ignored the fact that the company is fixing the numbers by using upload speed to increase their total speed. If the government is going to give up public spectrum and supply the money then why not have the government run it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 3rd, 2010 @ 9:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Portland

    "Free bad service is still bad service."

    Yeah, but what do you expect for free. Free bad service is better than no service at all.

    "If the government is going to give up public spectrum and supply the money then why not have the government run it."

    I have no problems with that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Jake, May 4th, 2010 @ 1:48am

    384kbps is actually rather better than I can get with my current wireless broadband provider, who claim "up to" 1.1MB/s in their ads. However, the fact that M2Z are already fudging the numbers about as far as they can possibly go without actually lying doesn't fill me with confidence that most users will actually get 384kbps.

    And I'm with the consensus view; it's becoming harder and harder to live without home internet access no matter what income bracket you happen to be in, so the idea is a good one, but if the taxpayer is footing a large chunk of the bill then the government ought to be running the show.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 4th, 2010 @ 7:51am

    Public airwaves should be considered public property. How the FCC can exclusively hand over public property to some private broadcaster to put non copyable private content on it is beyond me.

    I am in favor of either disbarring the FCC and allowing anyone to use the public spectra how they see fit, with the exception of only one radio and one television station for emergency broadcast use only, or allowing the government to use all public spectra to provide everyone with free Internet service (with the above exceptions for emergency use only) and allowing private companies to build Internet cell phones, Internet radio stations, Internet television stations, hand held devices that access the Internet, Internet car, home, and hand held radio, etc... Public airwaves should be used the public good and not handed over to some private broadcaster resulting in the monopolization of both the spectra and the content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 4th, 2010 @ 9:39am

    Difference between UP TO and CAPPED speeds

    I, too, agree with Nick and AC.

    While I agree with Carlo that M2Z's plans sound unrealistic, and they are begging for a double handout, I think Nick is spot on that 384Kbps could do a lot of good.

    Also, it's worth noting that a "governed" or "limited to" speed of 384Kbps is different than the normal "up to" speeds we are quoted in the wireless sector. For example, AT&T's HSPA cites "up to 7.2Mbps", but this is a laboratory best case speed, with an uncontested network. As we know, real world speeds are almost always below 1.5Mbps, just ask an iPhone 3GS user. But with a "governed" top speed of 384Kbps on a network than can actually deliver a theoretical 7.2Mbps, you might ACTUALLY GET 384Kbps of downstream data.

    Now, if you've ever looked at the throughput the average web server tops out at to the individual user's laptop, it's about 300Kbps. My DOCSIS 3 connection offers me 16Mbps, but I still only load most websites at 300Kbps, because I am sharing the websites upstream servers and capacity with many other users.

    So, a true 384Kbs download speed would actually deliver very snappy web browsing and email service, while being a little slow for multiple simultaneous downloads, video, and such.

    Seems like that would be damned good IF it could be ubiquitous (unlikely) and free.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 4th, 2010 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Portland

    I disagree completely. People swarm towards bad service, so long as it's the best option that is free.

    Our interstates are riddled with potholes. They are terrible compared with the phenomenal, smooth, toll autoroutes of Europe. Yet people seem to swarm to our crappy, free freeways, while in Europe, many choose the free regional roads with all their stoppages and town crossings.

    Subway is having a free breakfast on May 11. Go there between 7 and 10 to get a free sandwich and coffee. For realz. I think there will be long lines, the service will be slow, and I would rather go there May 12 and pay for a sandwich with no wait. However, I can assure you that many people will gladly take the inferior service on May 11 because the price is free.

    The point about Portland is irrelevant. That shows that if you offer a free bad service, but someone else offers a slightly better free service, then people will choose the better free service. They are still choosing free hotspots with limited service coverage over a paid Verizon EV-DO MyFi modem, which works well anywhere in Portland.

    And, BTW, perhaps a 384Kbps service that covers ALL of Portland with limited gaps is actually BETTER than a bunch of WiFi hotspots in specific cafes. Ubiquity and consistency can be at least as important as speed.

    And of course, the people that will swarm to these free (inferior) services are those with less money for discretionary spending. You or I may buy the better service (I love my MyFi), but some people choose nothing over the current paid options. Some people don't have a whole lot of hotspot options in their location.

    If (and that's a big if) the country truly wants to bring all citizens into the digital age, should we really depend on the nations Baristas to do the heavy lifting?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 4th, 2010 @ 9:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Portland

    "Plus all the comments ignored the fact that the company is fixing the numbers by using upload speed to increase their total speed"

    What are you talking about? Carlo explained that clearly in the article. Why would we re-hash it here? Plus, most comments seem to refer to 384Kbps, which is the correct D/L figure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), May 4th, 2010 @ 10:04am


    Do you own a house?

    How the government could take that land, which previously was owned by some branch of gov't, and SELL it to you so you can use it as you see fit is beyond me.

    "Public airwaves should be considered public property."
    Um...they are. And we have policy in place to lease out our property to the free market.

    You see, the government sells, rents, and leases pubic assets all the time. In the case of spectrum, it is leased, with conditions to provide the public with a service, and paid for dearly at auction.

    The proceeds from the auction go to the Treasury to offset your taxes. The public gets paid. It's fair.

    You may not like the policy, and you could certainly make a case for different policy, but you can't credibly come off like the current spectrum policy is some major scam where public assets are given away for nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Brendan (profile), May 4th, 2010 @ 11:44am

    Other example of adding up/down stream speeds

    This con has long been in play for the powerline ethernet market.

    The units advertised as 200Mbps are really just 100Mbps duplex (and don't perform anywhere close to that threshold anyway).

    That said, I love my powerline ethernet for my HTPC/PS3. It's vastly superior to a flaky wireless connection, or running a cable through the middle of the room...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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