The FCC’s plan for a nation-wide free wireless network has received a number of criticisms, including that previous free WiFi plans haven’t fared too well. There’s another issue being raised in this opinion piece at ABC News, which is that the filtering requirement isn’t just for pornography but in fact anything that would be harmful to kids. The specific wording in the proposal (PDF) is: “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”.
A great majority of things could be harmful to five year olds, including most of the news. Any sort of community or blog site — anything that lets people post their own unmoderated content — would probably have to be blocked. It is theoretically possible to filter out those posts which are inappropriate, but experience has shown that most automated filtering programs have a lot of false positives and negatives. That aside, restricting the access of adults to content appropriate to a child of five years is ridiculous.
Could this restriction obviate carriers’ concerns about the spectrum? The CTIA has complained that carriers can’t be expected to bid huge amounts of money in a spectrum auction for the purposes of providing a wireless broadband service if the FCC then goes and tries to build something that would undermine their business model, reports eWeek. If the free service is so restricted that could mean people would prefer to use the carriers’ service…except there’s one problem. The ABC opinion piece claims that the filtering requirements are unconstitutional, and argue that “if the FCC insists on tying the creation of a free nationwide broadband wireless network to government mandated censorship, the constitutionality of the plan will surely be challenged in court and will be struck down”. So someone could buy the spectrum, then get the filtering requirements removed.