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.
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.