Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Silicon Valley start-up that wanted to use a portion of the public airwaves to create a free wireless broadband network was given the thumbs down by the Federal Communications Commission.

M2Z Networks Inc. in May 2006 asked the FCC for exclusive access to part of unused spectrum with which the company promised to build a network that would cover 95 percent of Americans within 10 years.

The commission on Friday night rejected M2Z’s proposal, along with a similar one from NetfreeUS, saying it wasn’t convinced giving away rights to the spectrum would be in the public interest.

“The public interest is best served by considering fully the best use of this spectrum in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Chairman Kevin J. Martin, a Republican, said in a statement. “Many have suggested that we should auction this spectrum, while still others suggest that due to the high demand for this spectrum we should consider unlicensed use of the band. Each of these proposals has merit, and consideration of either would be inappropriately foreclosed by granting forbearance in this instance.”

A spokesman for M2Z said the Mountain View, Calif., company has not made a decision regarding whether to appeal.

The company’s plan had called for the FCC to assign it an exclusive, 15-year license to 25 megahertz of spectrum. M2Z had said it would build an ad-supported wireless network capable of reaching 33 percent of the population in three years, 66 percent in five years and 95 percent in a decade.

The wireless industry opposed the proposal on grounds that the commission shouldn’t allocate spectrum without an auction. Other groups, including the Media Access Project, had objected to M2Z’s plan to filter the network to make it “family friendly.”

The commission’s decision to dismiss M2Z’s petition was without prejudice — meaning it did not address the merits of the company’s plan. Thus, the door isn’t shut to such a proposal in the future, depending on what rules the commission adopts.

Mr. Martin said the agency plans to issue a notice of proposed rule-making shortly.

WAMU shuffle

Public radio news outlet WAMU-FM (88.5) is shaking up its schedule.

The station, starting Sept. 17, will take on a strictly news/talk format, bumping its traditional Sunday bluegrass content to its second HD channel, 88.5-2. In its place, WAMU will add “Speaking of Faith” and “Bob Edwards Weekend,” as well as “The State We’re In” and “Tell Me More.”

Meanwhile, the recorded bluegrass music currently heard on WAMU’s third HD channel is moving to 88.5-2, requiring an HD receiver. The move makes room for additional news/talk programs on 88.5-3, including BBC news coverage as well as “Talk of the Nation” from National Public Radio. The station will continue to air folk, rock and blues music from Towson’s WTMD-FM from midnight to 5 a.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. on weekends.

“WAMU 88.5 has decided that this is the time to begin treating HD Radio multicasting as ‘real’ radio, and programming distinct, robust, live-produced listening alternatives to our diverse constituencies,” General Manager Caryn G. Mathes said of the changes.

Channel Surfing runs Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3139 or e-mail

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