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FCC delays consideration of free Internet plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator on Thursday postponed consideration of a plan to auction a piece of wireless airwaves to buyers willing to provide free broadband Internet service without pornography.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said he would delay an expected vote on his proposal to auction an unused piece of 25 megahertz wireless spectrum, with the condition that the winning bidder offer free Internet access and filter out obscene content on part of those airwaves,

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin had scheduled the commission to take up the proposal at its next meeting on June 12. Martin said on Thursday he removed the proposal from the meeting agenda to give the commission more time to look into concerns raised by some wireless carriers.

“I am happy to end up giving people a little more time to consider this,” Martin said.

But Martin hastened to add that he was still committed to the free-broadband concept. “I think that’s a critical goal. I’m still anxious for the commission to do it,” he said.

Martin said he wanted to make sure the FCC’s other four commissioners have enough time to look into the proposal. He said the agency could still take up the proposal in July and meet an August timeline for approving the auction rules.

Under that timeline, the auction could be held as early as the end of the year.

Under Martin’s proposal, the winning bidder for the unused piece of 25 megahertz spectrum also would have to build out the system to serve half of the U.S. population within four years and 95 percent within 10 years.

The plan would address criticism from some consumer advocates, who say the government should take steps to get broadband service into more U.S. households. It also could win praise from anti-obscenity watchdog groups.

Under Martin’s proposal, the auction winner would be allowed to use the rest of the airwaves for commercial services.

The delay gives the FCC more time to look into fears expressed by some wireless service providers that use of the airwaves would interfere with wireless spectrum that they acquired in another FCC auction in 2006. They have told the FCC the rules governing the new auction should include additional measures to guard against interference.

Martin said on Thursday that he was not inclined to agree. He said the rules for the new auction provide the same level of protection against interference as those in previous auctions, including the 2006 auction.

“It seems like a fair level to me,” Martin said.

Editing by Braden Reddall