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Regulators, Cities, Business Converge on Wireless Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission has twice in the last month moved to make broadcast spectrum available for advanced wireless services. At the same time, several cities have announced wireless initiatives, and companies have begun to shape themselves to be wireless broadband providers on the model of the cellular telephone industry.

The FCC last week announced it would clear blocks of frequencies in the 1.7 Ghz and 2.1 Ghz ranges for advanced wireless services (AWS) -- a step toward a future auction of 90 MHz of spectrum for AWS. This was the second time in just over a month the commission had acted to create AWS spectrum. On Sept. 4 it allocated 20Mhz of spectrum that it said "can be used to offer a variety of broadband and advanced wireless services (AWS), potentially including 'third generation' (3G) wireless services."

Commission chairman Michael K. Powell also hit the road to talk up wireless broadband. He addressed audiences at the CTIA show in San Francisco on Tuesday and WISPCON in Las Vegas on Wednesday. In both appearances he cast himself as the champion of wireless broadband: "Adopting policies that foster increased availability of broadband alternatives and competition is one of the most important goals of the FCC," he told the wireless Internet service providers in Las Vegas.

The theme of his WISP speech, "Bringing the Benefits of Broadband to Rural America," was echoed in an announcement by the city of Rio Rancho, New Mexico on Thursday that it had selected a provider to deploy a 103-square-mile Wi-Fi network by March of next year. The city joins several others with large wireless broadband ambitions, including Colusa, CA, Helena, MT, Scotts Bluff, NB, Flora, IL, and Holbrook, New York -- all held up as examples by Chairman Powell in his WISP speech.

Also on Thursday, one wireless Internet service provider, U.S. Wireless Online, Inc., of Louisville, KY, gave a hint of how the WISP industry might grow when it announced its acquisition of MJS Holdings, Inc., an Ohio wireless broadband provider with 700 square miles of wireless broadband coverage in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Cleveland and surrounding areas in Ohio. The purchase will more than triple the coverage area served by U.S. Wireless, which also operates a carrier-grade network operations center. The company's announcement sait it "intends to expand its wireless coverage area and revenue base through acquisitions within its emerging and highly fragmented industry" and is currently looking for other acquisition candidates.