It looks like the federal government wants to get into the WiFi business. The plan is to create a super network across the country that would eliminate the high priced cell phone bills that most American’s have accepted as a fact of life.
This bold idea won’t come to fruition without a fight though as some of the country’s biggest companies have staked out their positions, pro and con. On one side you have the wireless industry, whose $178 billion dollar a year profits will take a direct hit. They no doubt will be using their vast resources to try to put a stop to this proposal and will be sending an army of lobbyists to storm Capitol Hill. On the other end you have powerhouses like Google and Microsoft who see this as a way to spur innovation. Although the cynic in me says that they see dollar signs with all the potential customers who may be able to afford a device but not a monthly internet bill.
This free WiFi, available in all cities and most rural areas, will be more powerful than what we see in our homes and will be able to penetrate concrete walls, go around trees, and over hills. Not to mention be as far reaching as a mile away giving the ability for driverless cars to communicate at great distances for example.
According to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski “Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers.” The argument being that this is the same model that was used back in 1985 when just a small amount of unlicensed airwaves were made available and things like garage door openers and baby monitors soon followed.
While the wireless companies are against this idea, most cities are for it, and in some places it already exists. Google is currently giving free public WiFi to some places in Silicon Valley and in Chelsea, a Manhattan neighborhood.
The airwaves would be acquired from local television and radio stations through some sort of eminent domain, and will not only be re-purposed for the free WiFi but also to make a dedicated channel for emergency responders as well as to beef up the cellular networks.
One of the major roadblocks, like with anything else in Washington these days, is money. By auctioning off this spectrum the government’s revenues would be in the billions. This argument was made by some republicans as well as some of the major carriers. Additionally Intel, who makes the majority of chips used in cellular devices, argues that the free WiFi plan would crowd the airwaves and the spectrum should be used to expand 4G coverage.
This plan is still a ways off and isn’t likely to get anywhere with the current state of DC politics the way it is. It all boils down to the same argument of big government Vs. big business, but no matter where you stand on the issue I’m sure that we can all agree that these airwaves in question should be allocated sooner rather than later.