FCC Proposes Public Wifi Networks To Spur Innovation

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski discussing public broadband back in 2011. Wow, this is a shocker. I was beginning to believe that the United States would never catch up with the rest of the world. Now it's up to us to let our elected officials

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FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski discussing public broadband back in 2011.

Wow, this is a shocker. I was beginning to believe that the United States would never catch up with the rest of the world. Now it's up to us to let our elected officials know voters are behind this latest proposal:

The federal government wants to create super WiFi networks across the nation, so powerful and broad in reach that consumers could use them to make calls or surf the Internet without paying a cellphone bill every month.

The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission has rattled the $178 billion wireless industry, which has launched a fierce lobbying effort to persuade policymakers to reconsider the idea, analysts say. That has been countered by an equally intense campaign from Google, Microsoft and other tech giants who say a free-for-all WiFi service would spark an explosion of innovations and devices that would benefit most Americans, especially the poor.

The airwaves that FCC officials want to hand over to the public would be much more powerful than existing WiFi networks that have become common in households. They could penetrate thick concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees. If all goes as planned, free access to the Web would be available in just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas.

The new WiFi networks would also have much farther reach, allowing for a driverless car to communicate with another vehicle a mile away or a patient’s heart monitor to connect to a hospital on the other side of town.

If approved by the FCC, the free networks would still take several years to set up. And, with no one actively managing them, con­nections could easily become jammed in major cities. But public WiFi could allow many consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. The frugal-minded could even use the service in their homes, allowing them to cut off expensive Internet bills.

“For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service,” said Jeffrey Silva, an analyst at the Medley Global Advisors research firm. “Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people.”

[...] The FCC’s plan is part of a broader strategy to repurpose entire swaths of the nation’s airwaves to accomplish a number of goals, including bolstering cellular networks and creating a dedicated channel for emergency responders.

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Genachowski for his idea of creating free WiFi networks, noting that an auction of the airwaves would raise billions for the U.S. Treasury.

That sentiment echoes arguments made by companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Intel and Qualcomm, in a letter to the FCC staff late last month, that the government should focus its attention on selling the airwaves to businesses.

For once, maybe the government will actually do something for its citizens instead of big business. Stay tuned.

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