Usually it’s the government putting a regulatory block on something citizens should be enjoying for free. This time it’s special interest groups trying to keep the government from providing it.
The Washington Post reported on Feb. 3 that “the federal government wants to create super Wi-Fi 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.” This obviously doesn’t sit well with those set to lose money in the process, and they’re fighting it tooth and nail to keep their $178 billion industry intact.
The proposed “Super Wi-Fi” is far more powerful than the network you piggyback to check your Facebook page in Starbucks, mind you. The proposal from the Federal Communications Commission “can penetrate concrete walls and travel over hills and around trees.” It can reach farther than ever before, “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.” We’re talking about serious power here, power that could make our lives a whole lot simpler, and cheaper.
But opponents cry foul. The wireless industry, spearheaded by giants like AT&T, T-Mobile, Intel and Qualcomm, put together a well-funded campaign urging the government to focus its attention on selling the airwaves to businesses for profit instead. As do most with something to gain, their pleas suggest something to gain for everyone, but leave the average Joe stuck with the check.
There are some powerful supporters, though, digging trenches on the opposite side. Google, Microsoft and other tech companies believe a free-for-all Wi-Fi service would lead to innovation and creativity in devices made available to Americans, and would provide a service every consumer deserves: access to society.
Under the proposal, the FCC would provide free, baseline Wi-Fi access in “just about every metropolitan area and in many rural areas” using the same air wave frequencies that empower AM radio and the broadcast television spectrum, according to Business Insider. They’d still take several years to set up, but the Wi-Fi would allow consumers to make free calls from their mobile phones via the Internet. This could cut back on a lot of bills not only for those using wireless carriers for service, but for schools and libraries providing services to the public. It could even ultimately help create a dedicated channel for emergency responders.
The innovation proponents desire resembles that experienced with the creation of baby monitors, garage door openers and wireless stage microphones when unlicensed airwaves were made available in 1985. Today these things seem like necessities to the average lifestyle. Why would we want to hinder such a thing?
For businesses selling the airwaves this causes a problem. The proposal would require wireless carriers, local TV stations, broadcast networks and others to sell a chunk of airwaves to the government for distribution to the public for free. If they’re not willing to do so, the struggle may go beyond the FCC’s approval.
There’s a war for profit brewing, and we as consumers are caught in the middle again. At least if Google and Microsoft win we get free “Super Wi-Fi,” and possibly a wealth of inventions we could never have imagined.