The Obama administration appears to have raised quite a few eyebrows with this one.
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 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.
As you might imagine, the proposal is not without controversy. Municipalities tend to support it, because free-for-all WiFi service would make it easy to connect schools, libraries, as well as local businesses that would benefit from a broader reach. Google and Microsoft are enthusiastic proponents, arguing that fast, publicly-accessible service from coast to coast would lead to more commerce and innovation.
But the wireless industry is far less pleased.
If consumers can get online, quickly and easily, for no money, nearly everywhere in the country, they’d be disinclined to pay private wireless carriers for the service. What’s more, local television stations may have to sacrifice some of their licensed spectrum, and many Republicans oppose the idea, preferring to auction off spectrum to the private sector for revenue that could lower the debt they helped create.
The proposal will need FCC approval, and even if given the green light, would need “several years to set up.” There will be an enormous amount of lobbying, jockeying, and debate between now and then.
But the country hasn’t seen a debate over access to technology on this scale in quite a while.
Update: I spoke this afternoon to an FCC spokesperson who explained: “The FCC’s incentive auction proposal, launched in September of last year, would unleash substantial spectrum for licensed uses like 4G LTE. It would also free up unlicensed spectrum for uses including, but not limited to, next generation Wi-Fi. As the demand for mobile broadband continues to grow rapidly, we need to free up significant amounts of spectrum for commercial use, and both licensed and unlicensed spectrum must be part of the solution.”