Before he steps down as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin still hopes to win approval for his plan to auction off a slice of the airwaves for a free, nationwide wireless broadband network. To increase the chances that his proposal will win the support of his fellow commissioners, Martin said he has removed one especially contested element: a requirement that the provider of the wireless network filter internet content to block any material deemed inappropriate for children.
Like the rest of his plan, Martin’s proposal to build a family-friendly broadband network by blocking objectionable web sites was loosely based on the business model of a startup called M2Z Networks. (See "Free broadband plan raises critics’ ire.")
The concept mirrors the logic behind indecency regulations governing over-the-air broadcast TV: Because the service would be available to everyone, it would need to protect children from unsuitable material.
But the filtering proposal raised concerns among free-speech advocates on the left and right, who questioned how to determine what constitutes appropriate internet content and how effective content filters truly are. Opponents point out that filters often mistakenly block legitimate sites, including resources about health and sex education.
Critics of Martin’s plan also noted that parents already have access to a wide range of online tools to control what their children see on the web–a point cited by the Supreme Court in a landmark 1997 ruling that struck down a federal law regulating explicit online material.
Even with the content-filtering element now gone, Martin’s proposal has murky prospects. The plan faces significant opposition from T-Mobile USA and other wireless carriers, which claim it would interfere with their own services. And both Republicans and Democrats have questioned whether it would too heavily favor one company’s business model.
Martin is due to step down as chairman of the FCC when the Obama administration takes office Jan. 20.