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Public Comment Period Opens for Proposed Porn-Free Wireless Net

Free national wireless network would filter P2P networks in addition to images and text deemed 'harmful to teens and adolescents'
Public Comment Period Opens for Proposed Porn-Free Wireless Net
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Jun 25, 2008 4:00 PM PDT    Text size: 
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A two-week public comment period commenced today with the publication in the federal register of the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) proposed rules for the establishment of a free national wireless Internet that would filter out images and text considered harmful to teens and adolescents.

The proposal to establish a cost-free, family-friendly wireless Internet was made a year ago by Internet provider M2Z Networks, which plans only to charge for a modem programmed to access a wireless signal.

Following the public comment period, which ends July 9, the FCC will publish reply comments by July 16, according to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the FCC June 20.

"We seek comment on rules for licensing this newly designated spectrum in a manner that will permit it to be fully and promptly utilized to bring advanced wireless services to American consumers," the FCC stated. "Our objective is to allow for the most effective and efficient use of spectrum in this band, while also encouraging development of robust wireless broadband services."

The content filtering component of the proposal has been updated by the FCC, as follows:

§ 27.1193 Content Network Filtering Requirement.

(a) The licensee of the 2155-2188 MH band (AWS-3 licensee) must provide as part of its free broadband service a network-based mechanism:

(1) That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography and, in context, as measured by contemporary community standards and existing law, any images or text that otherwise would be harmful to teens and adolescents. For purposes of this rule, teens and adolescents are children 5 through 17 years of age;

(2) That must be active at all times on any type of free broadband service offered to customers or consumers through an AWS-3 network. In complying with this requirement, the AWS-3 licensee must use viewpoint-neutral means in instituting the filtering mechanism and must otherwise subject its own content—including carrier-generated advertising—to the filtering mechanism.

(b) The AWS-3 licensee must:

(1) inform new customers that the filtering is in place and must otherwise provide on-screen notice to users. It may also choose additional means to keep the public informed of the filtering, such as storefront or website notices;

(2) use best efforts to employ filtering to protect children from exposure to inappropriate material as defined in paragraph (a)(1). Should any commercially-available network filters installed not be capable of reviewing certain types of communications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, the licensee may use other means, such as limiting access to those types of communications as part of the AWS-3 free broadband service, to ensure that inappropriate content as defined in paragraph (a)(1) not be accessible as part of the service.

As expected, the plan as it is being proposed has its supporters and opponents. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Chris Cannon reportedly back the plan, but John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, sees potential constitutional problems.

"If the commission stresses that this filtering is an important part of the commission's decision-making process, then I think there are going to be some constitutional concerns," he said. "If this is the one single government-approved national broadband network, and it's going to be available for free and it's government-sanctioned, then it looks like this is government-imposed censorship."

In a column posted today to the CircleID website, law professor Wendy Seltzer expressed her concerns with a plan that she says would make the Internet no longer the Internet.

"To block naked pictures among the 1s and 0s of Internet data," she argues, "you need first to know that a given 11010110 is part of a picture, not a voice conversation or text document. So to have any hope of filtering effectively, you have to constrain network traffic to protocols you know, and know how to filter. Web browsing OK, peer-to-peer browsing out."

Indeed, the FCC rules say that if filters do not recognize certain types of communication, such as P2P networks, "the licensee may use other means, such as limiting access to those types of communications as part of the AWS-3 free broadband service, to ensure that inappropriate content ... not be accessible as part of the service."

Seltzer claims that such a level of filtering would reduce the proposed wireless Internet to "cable television with a few more channels."

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