Tyler Falk, 4 February 2013
The United States government wants to make access to fast and free WiFi as easy as accessing public roads.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has proposed to free up digital infrastructure to allow free public access to WiFi — more powerful than what most people have in their homes — in most metropolitan areas and many rural areas, The Washington Post reports:
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.
To achieve this, the government would have to repurpose how airwaves are used. As the Post points out, that means local television stations and other broadcasters would have to sell some of their airwaves to the government. Whether companies are willing to make the sale is yet to be seen.
As you can imagine, support of the proposal is split between two major industries. On the one hand, the telecomm industry is lobbying the government to keep those airwaves in the hands of businesses.
Tech giants like Google and Microsoft, however, see a nationwide public WiFi network as a catalyst for innovation (and increased sales of their products). Though Google, at least, isn’t waiting for the government to act to offer free public WiFi. In New York City, the company recently launched free public WiFi in the Chelsea neighborhood.
But a free-for-all WiFi network? Politics will decide its fate.