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May 23, 2006

M2Z – The Chinese Internet @Home

What’s not to like?  Startup M2Z backed by a bevy of beefy VCs including Kleiner Perkins and Charles River Ventures wants to use junk radio spectrum and give everyone in the US free (ad-supported) Internet access at either 384KB (NY Times Version) or 512KB (Reuters version).  Milo Medin, a founder of @Home Network, is chairman and CTO.  They’ll raise the money to do this privately.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the competitive answer we so badly need to the cableco-telco duopoly. Shucks.

Here’s the hook.  Apparently in order to induce the FCC to award them these radio frequencies, the company has offered to let the FCC censor the Internet service it provides in the same way that over-the-air television is censored.

Quoting the NY Times:

M2Z plans to include a filter with the free service that would block access to "indecent" material, a definition Mr. Sachs said could be made by the government, just as it controls standards for broadcast television.

"Give us the spectrum and we'll provide free service and we'll live with the decency guidelines," Mr. Sachs said.

The Times identifies Bruce Sachs as a partner with Charles River Ventures.

Wait a f’ing (I don’t want to be knocked off the M2Z Internet) minute.  Since when does the FCC get to censor person-to-person communications? Phone calls often go through the air on FCC-licensed spectrum; FCC doesn’t get to decide whether they’re decent or not. “Cable” television travels to and from satellites on FCC licensed spectrum; FCC(wisely) doesn’t control cable content. In fact, the Internet often uses licensed spectrum as well – without content control.

There was a smidgen of historical justification for the FCC regulating “broadcast” television – especially when the technology only allowed a handful of channels so the airwaves could be considered a rare public resource. There is no possible justification for the FCC to set “decency” guideline for the Internet and delegate their enforcement to ISPs.  Note that I am NOT saying that crimes committed using the Internet cannot be prosecuted just like crimes committed using any other means, just NO PRIOR CENSORSHIP.

Perhaps M2Z is just practicing the pitch they want to make to the People’s Republic of China to deliver the domain-restricted Chinese Internet.

I do like the idea of using the soon-to-be-available spectrum for a competitive Internet service.  Even better would be several competitive Internet services.  It doesn’t bother me that they ask the FCC to share in service revenue (from faster, paid service) rather than get upfront money for the spectrum. It’s great that the network would be built with private capital.  But building a new, censored “Internet” is not the answer to the pathetic position the US finds itself in with regards to broadband access compared to other developing countries.

Om Malik posts that the project will never make it through the beltway because of opposition from fearsome telco and cableco lobbies. He’s probably right but it’s scary to think that the telcos and cablecos might then offer to censor “their” parts of the Internet as well. That would get them to where they want to be as far as stifling what makes the Net work.

Jeff Jarvis is at least as apoplectic as I am at the proposed censorship. Read his post for some additional background on the former @Home service.

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