FCC commissioners dismissed proposals to build a nationwide wireless broadband network that could be used by the public free of charge, citing the need for a proceeding that would let the commission consider all potential uses of the 2.1 GHz spectrum in question.

Last year, M2Z Networks—let by former FCC Wireless Bureau Chief John Muleta and Milo Medin, founder of @Home—asked the FCC to grant the fledling company exclusive nationwide rights to use the 2155-2175 MHz band to build a wireless broadband network across the country. Instead of the FCC auctioning the spectrum—unused for years—M2Z Networks asked the agency make it the licensee in return for 5% of the company’s revenue.

But the FCC ruled that such a spectrum grant would not be in the public interest, expressing a desire to conduct a proceeding that would consider other ideas for the spectrum. NetFreeUS submitted a proposal similar to that of M2Z Networks, while others have advocated that the airwaves be auctioned or designated for unlicensed use.

“Each of these proposals has merit, and consideration of either would be inappropriately foreclosed by granting forbearance in this instance,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a statement. “We plan to issue this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking shortly to address these issues and adopt flexible rules that will encourage the innovative use of this unique piece of spectrum.”

M2Z Networks proposed building a network leveraging WiMAX technology that could be used free of charge by the public at lower data rates, and accessed at data rates up to 3 MB/s by paid subscribers.

Another aspect of the M2Z Networks plan is that public-safety entities would be given priority access to the network in times of emergency, which caused a coalition of public-safety organizations to express support for the proposal on the eve of the FCC decision.

However, public-safety officials have noted that the M2Z network would not be hardened or otherwise optimized for public-safety use, so it would be no more than a secondary avenue for data delivery. While public safety wants access to as many broadband pipes as possible—especially if there is no budget impact to public safety—the first-responder community is more focused on private broadband networks and the proposed public-private 700 MHz network that would be designed for public-safety use.

“It’s just a matter of how much time do we have,” said Charles Werner, fire chief in Charlottesville, Va., noting that public-safety entities also are dealing with 800 MHz rebanding, E911 location and upgrade issues, narrowbanding in the lower bands and voice-quality issues with existing radios.